With Saturday’s opening of Montana’s first wolf trapping season Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks offers important reminders for trappers and all winter recreationists.
Earlier this year, FWP held 36 wolf trapper certification classes statewide, mandatory for any trapper who plans to participate in the wolf trapping season. These six-hour classes, taught by FWP staff and experienced trappers, included a thorough study of the regulations, advice for safely sharing lands with other recreationists, trapper ethics, and a hands-on opportunity to familiarize with wolf trapping equipment.
FWP offers the following safety tips for trappers, snow-shoers, skiers, hikers, and others while recreating this winter:
- Review the Montana Wolf Regulations and Montana Furbearer Regulations for a complete listing of trapping regulations and key points for trappers and others.
- Review trap set-back requirements. Montana law requires wolf traps on public lands to be set back at least 150 feet from a designated road or trail (50 feet for furbearer trapping); 1,000 feet from a trailhead (300 feet for other furbearers); and 1,000 feet from a public campground.
- Follow trap check requirements. Wolf trappers are required to visually check traps at least once in every 48 hours.
- Know trap, harvest & reporting requirements. Only foothold traps can be used for wolf trapping; snaring wolves is prohibited. Trappers can take a combination of up to one wolf via hunting and two wolves via trapping—or three wolves via trapping. All wolf harvests via hunting or trapping must be reported to FWP within 24 hours by calling 1-877-397-9453.
- Take steps to avoid accidental capture. Trappers must adhere to trap setback requirements from roads, trails and campgrounds and should make additional efforts to place traps in areas well away from those frequented by other recreationists. Dog owners can minimize risks by staying on well used routes and keeping pets close by when hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing. To minimize unintentional capture of lynx, a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act, and other small animals, a minimum trap pan tension release trigger of eight-pounds is required in two western Montana trapping districts.
FWP points out that there is always some trapping activity, besides the wolf season, that people can avoid with a few additional tips.
Traps set under the water for animals, such as beavers, do not have to adhere to setbacks. To prevent conflict, trappers should avoid setting water-based traps in heavily used areas, and dog owners should use caution when letting dogs swim in waters adjacent to lands where trapping is allowed.
FWP does not have authority under Montana law to regulate setbacks for coyote trapping but FWP and the Montana Trappers Association stresses in all of their education classes and outreach to trappers, the importance of avoiding setting any traps in heavily used areas.
The bottom line, according to FWP, is that most dog owners can minimize risks of accidental capture by sticking to well traveled routes, especially those spots that are subject to setback requirements. And, look for signs of trapping activity; a lightly traveled snowmobile track or a few footsteps in the snow may indicate a trapper’s presence and could be avoided. Trappers should avoid setting traps in areas of concentrated public use, where more conflicts could occur.
If a dog does encounter a trap, two large vice-grip pliers can open a foothold trap (the only trap legal for wolf trapping in Montana) and a quality cable cutter cuts a snare, used in some other furbearer trapping seasons.
Recreationists who want to become more proficient at releasing traps and snares can contact FWP for an instructional brochure that was developed in partnership with the Montana Trappers Association. FWP Region 2 in Missoula also is soliciting interest for offering a short class that would provide a short overview of trapping in Montana, including steps to take to release traps in the case of an accidental capture. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 406-542-5500 if interested.
For those looking for completely trap-free recreation opportunities, FWP, the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests, and the Montana Trappers Association have cooperated in setting aside some heavily used public land areas in west-central Montana where trapping is not allowed. The Pattee Canyon Recreation Area, Blue Mountain Recreation Area (including Maclay Flats), Rattlesnake Recreation Area (outside the Wilderness), and Bass Creek Recreation Areas are closed to all trapping. Most FWP Fishing Access Sites also are closed to trapping—check with FWP if you have a question about a specific FAS.
“We just want recreationists and trappers to know that there are some easy choices available to them, and that there is a lot of room for users to get along,” said Mike Thompson, FWP’s wildlife supervisor in Missoula.
Image courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks