Trapping, hunting and fishing can all be controversial topics, and it is, sometimes, difficult for people to acknowledge that parties will not always find a common ground on these topics, mostly due to strong emotions involved with misconceptions and opinions being masked as facts. Agreeing to disagree is easier said than done.
Trapping, in particular, is a very hot topic in Montana right now, especially for non-trappers–but not all non-trappers are against trapping, as many realize what an important management tool trapping is to the wildlife in Montana. Many non-trappers are against I-169, which is an initiative that an animal rights activist group currently is collecting signatures for to get on the ballot that would ban trapping on all public land in Montana. Ben Lamb does not trap, nor has he ever had the desire to trap, yet he opposes I-169 and recently forwarded me a letter explaining why.
First, here’s a little bit about him: Ben Lamb is a freelance writer and natural resource policy consultant in Helena, Montana. He has worked on wildlife and public land issues for over a decade in Wyoming and Montana. A Wyoming native, Ben grew up with a fishing rod in one hand and a rifle in the other. His favorite activities are mule deer hunting and fly fishing for trout in Montana’s backcountry.
Trapping is one of those issues that seems to evaporate the middle ground. You either support it or you don’t. I freely admit that I’m not a trapper and I have no desire to set a trap on public or private land anywhere in the world. It’s just not my cup of tea. I also strongly oppose I-167 and I-169.
The proposed initiatives (I-167, I-169) would eliminate trapping on public land. Both of these efforts are misguided and ignore an almost century of wildlife conservation policy and procedure that works very well. It’s a process, by the way, that some proponents of these initiatives have already availed themselves of to reduce conflict and create a better understanding between trappers and the non-trapping public while others have simply shown up to state their strident opposition to any form of consumptive use on public lands.
By all accounts however, the process has worked. It’s led to decreased conflicts, better understanding and most importantly: a shared resource (public land) that supports all of the activities and traditions Montanans hold dear.
Working together, people who have concerns about the impacts of trapping and the trapping community have developed better set-backs for trappers, ensuring that fewer pets will be caught, and even eliminating trapping in some areas that have high human use during the trapping season. That’s how democratic government works best: people working together, through the proper channels and governing bodies for a mutually beneficial outcome.
That system, defended vigorously by the trapping, hunting and fishing community, has been the cornerstone of wildlife management in Montana for over 100 years. The Fish & Wildlife Commission has been leading the way in places like Bozeman and the Bitterroot to reduce the very real conflicts that come up when pets get inadvertently trapped. But that’s not good enough for some.
Some people want to simply want to force their opinion on others without trying to resolve conflict. Those behind the initiative fall into that category. They are no different than the crowd who wants expansive bills like the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act passed or those that would eliminate public land and sell it to the highest bidder. They see the middle ground as no-man’s land, only to be fought over. They want complete victory, not compromise and collaboration.
While the anti-trapping faction has legitimate points to be made regarding incidental take on public land and how it impacts other species and recreational uses, some within that group simply hate trapping and want to get rid of it entirely. They know they don’t have the votes at the legislature nor the ability to convince the Fish & Wildlife Commission (who issued a proclamation in 2010 supporting trapping and opposing any initiative to ban it) to end trapping seasons. They fall into the “Some men just want to see the world burn” category.
Likewise, the pro-trapping contingent doesn’t always do themselves favors by telling pet owners to leash their dogs on public land. It’s a natural reaction to being harassed and harangued but it is tone deaf to concerns that have a lot of validity. Their messaging sometimes misses the mark in terms of reaching a broader audience than the Pendleton and Filson crowd.
But there’s a major difference between the trappers and those that would eject them from public land: The Trapping Community looks for workable solutions that empower every user group. The other side, not so much.
I spoke recently with Toby Walrath, the president of the Montana Trapper’s Association, head of Montanans for Effective Wildlife Management and a well-known outdoor writer. He led the efforts on several stakeholder processes to reduce conflict around Missoula.
In fact, we can look at the recent decisions on Como Lakes and the Bass Creek area and see Toby’s good work. Faced with real issues effecting other users, Toby and the trappers worked to eliminate the conflict and either close trapping or greatly increase safety measures to ensure that pets (which should always be under control of the owner either through voice, or if fido doesn’t listen – then yes, leash that pup) and their owners would remain safe and happy on our shared public lands.
Trappers have responded positively every time I’ve seen them confronted with actual concerns. Their major organization, the Montana Trapper’s Association led the effort in the 2011 Legislature to establish mandatory trapper education. That effort, unfortunately, was killed by inter-chamber skullduggery. Simply put, the votes were there, but one legislator refused to be held hostage by another and the bill died on third reading in the Senate after enjoying almost unanimous support in both chambers.
I don’t always agree with the trapping community or certain methods of trapping. But here’s why I willingly stand up for trapping and for the continued processes utilized to reduce conflict: They’re my neighbors and I owe it to my neighbors to at least sit down and talk with them when it relates to issues I have with their activities. They give me the exact same courtesy.
Initiatives are important methods of righting the wrongs our Government places upon us or enacting laws that our legislature lacks the political will to pass. Montanans have historically used the initiative process for the cumulative benefit of the citizenry. However, as an initiative, both I-169 and I-167 miss the mark. Allowing them to reach the ballot would be a slap in the face of the hard working trappers and wildlife advocates who work tirelessly to reduce conflict. Initiatives should always be the last straw.
I would respectfully urge anyone approached about signing on to these efforts to politely refuse.
Montanans have amazing access to their government, either through the executive branch or the legislature. Before an initiative comes about, those options should be exhausted. To date they have not. To date, the trapping community has been responsive to legitimate concerns related to conflict and they have worked with anyone willing to sit down with them to hammer out a compromise that benefits everyone. That effort should be rewarded especially in a political world where we all too often simply draw up sides and draw our swords.