By Michael Howell
A conversation instigated by a woman who loves to walk her dog in the woods has, after months of consideration by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials, U.S. Forest Service officials and members of the Montana Trappers Association, culminated in the closing of the 1,600-acre Bass Creek Recreation Area to trapping. On Friday, November 30, representatives of all parties gathered at the recreational area and celebrated the posting of the first sign which reads :
“THIS AREA IS TRAP FREE.”
It goes on to state that the recreation area is designated “trap free” for dog owners that want to use areas where they know their dog will not encounter a legally set wildlife trap, even if traveling off-trail. In conclusion it states, “As always, we encourage dog owners to protect dogs and wildlife by keeping your pet close by and under control, even where leashes are not required.”
In this case, at the Bass Creek Recreation Area, dogs are required to be on a leash in the campground and picnic area and at trailheads. Elsewhere they need to be kept close by and under control, but otherwise get to romp, along with their people, through miles of woods without fear of being trapped.
That’s a lot of ground, extending from Bass Creek Campground north almost to Sweeney Creek and up the mountain side as high as the first major switchback in the road. The area has long been posted as a ‘no shooting’ area and is very popular among horse riders, hikers, joggers, bicyclists, and dog walkers. In fact, with about 50,000 visits per year, it is second only to Lake Como in popularity.
All parties agree that Terri Norcross and her dog Keb were the instigators of the process when she came looking for the facts about trapping in the area and looking for a safe place to walk her dog. From her point of view it made sense to make the Bas Creek Recreation Area off limits to trapping as had been done in the Missoula area where Blue Mountain, Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyon “no trapping” areas had been dedicated.
Norcross said that she has never had a dog caught in a wildlife trap, “but it’s a very scary prospect. My thought was this would be a good place to be able to take a dog and not have that fear.”
As it turns out, it made a good deal of sense to both FWP officials and US Forest Service officials. The big question was, how would the trappers see it?
The answer, according to Toby Walrath, District 2 Director of the Montana Trappers Association, is that the trappers thought it was a good idea, too. He said back in the spring when the issue was brought to his attention, the association considered it at a meeting of 40 members and only two voted against the idea and only one person abstained. He said when it was brought before the board that every District Representative voted unanimously to approve the designation.
“It demonstrates that by working together we can find common ground and form a united voice in achieving some common goals,” said Walrath. He said that trappers were just one part of a complex set of different forest users that includes motorized vehicles, horses, dogs and children and that not all uses of the forest are appropriate in all places. He said trappers, using common sense, would usually avoid areas highly used by people, horses and dogs anyway.
“Generally, high use areas are not the best areas for trapping,” he said.
He said the Montana Trappers Association was trying hard to educate people about trapping and the designation of this area represented a good opportunity to show that trappers were willing to cooperate with people who have other interests and work together for solutions.
“We are just trying to keep our traditions alive,” he said.
Norcross said that when the trappers got involved they immediately invited her to a training session where she could learn about traps and trapping. She took them up on it.
“I met all these trappers and I said to myself, ‘these are people I can work with’.” And she did. She said education was the key both ways.
“Dog owners have responsibilities too,” said Norcross. “Dogs can have conflicts with other dogs, with horses or with other people. It’s the dog owners’ responsibility to have their dog under control.” But it’s also nice to have at least one place where you and your dog can get off the beaten path and wander a wide stretch of woods without having to watch for traps at every step.
Norcross said that it was a good thing for dog owners to know how traps work. She said she learned a lot at the training session.
“The other thing I learned is the amount of information about wildlife that is provided to FWP by trappers,” said Norcross. They know a lot about what’s going on in the woods, she said.
The Montana Trappers Association sponsors free public workshops and training sessions and has co-published a brochure with FWP called “Recreationist Guide to Releasing Traps and Snares.” The brochure is available at local Forest Service offices.