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Wolf trap

Mike Ross with the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks holds a wolf trap.

“Setback” rules, requiring trappers to place traps a certain distance away on roads closed to motorized use, are the subject of a new effort from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

On Thursday the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission directed each of the seven FWP regions to begin a public process identifying individual closed roads or trails currently open to trapping for possible restrictions. The agency is directed to bring the recommendations before the commission for future consideration.

Thursday’s action stems from debate both in the Montana Legislature and at a previous commission meeting pertaining to what constitutes a “closed” road. Under regulations, trails and roads open to wheeled vehicles require trappers to set traps a certain distance away from them in order to prevent conflicts with people or pets.

Those setback requirements do not apply to roads that are closed all year to wheeled vehicles, however, which became the subject of a contentious commission meeting in August. Trapping opponents testified that trapping on or near closed roads presents a public safety risk. Trappers countered that many of the roads in question are remote and seldom used by people but often used by animals such as wolves.

On a split vote, the commission adopted the recommendation of FWP in August to put clarifying language in the trapping regulations, which allows trapping on closed roads marked by administrative signs or numbers.

The commission decided to revisit the issue Thursday and direct FWP to solicit public feedback on closed roads that may warrant setbacks due to high use by people and pets.

“Because no general regulation can speak to every circumstance, we hope to have FWP regional staff meet with the stakeholders, the trappers, the public, the Forest Service, to come up with specific areas that are closed,” said FWP game management bureau chief John Vore.

The precedent is there, as FWP has worked previously with trappers and other recreationists to designate certain areas popular for hiking or skiing with dogs off limits to trapping.

The proposal saw a mix of support and opposition.

Several trappers said they were open to the idea of advisory groups to talk about potential areas but leery of the idea of blanket restrictions.

Jim Buell with the Montana Trappers Association came out against the proposal, saying where to set traps is a matter of common sense and there have not been conflicts to warrant a change.

“Here we are again with a motion to further restrict trapping opportunity by having each region compile a list of roads,” he said. “It’s an open invitation for those who wish to restrict trapping opportunity in Montana.”

Several testifying felt closing individual roads will simply create confusion.

Anja Heister with Footloose Montana, an organization advocating for eliminating trapping on public lands, pushed for setbacks on all closed roads.

“Getting rid of the exceptions in the trapping regulations will make them much more consistent and easier to understand,” she said, adding that such a move would show a commitment to public safety.

Commissioner Chairman Shane Colton of Billings expressed his hope that the process will provide clarification and limit potential conflicts, before the commission voted the measure through.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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