A fresh snowfall and warmer temperatures invite Montanans to enjoy the outdoors for skiing, hiking and Christmas tree hunting. But Footloose Montana urges people to use extreme caution on family outings this holiday season.
Tens of thousands of traps are hidden and baited across our public lands. Thousands more lethal traps are set than in the past. Trappers are not required to post signs and traps for predators and non-game animals can be anywhere with no license required. Children and dogs are especially at risk. Often a ring of traps surrounds bait, so companion animals can step into more than one trap at a time, as happened in 2011 a few hundred feet from the trailhead on Palisades Trail, 18 miles northeast of Hamilton on the Willow Creek Road.
Two families with children were looking for Christmas trees when one of their dogs started frantically barking and howling. He had stepped into two steel leg-hold traps under a rabbit carcass hung for bait. Three children watched in horror as their father worked to free the thrashing, 75-pound dog. Last winter a woman had a minor heart attack attempting to free her dog from a trap. A grandmother with severe arthritis had to free two dogs, writhing in pain, in front of her crying grandchildren. So far this winter season, Footloose Montana has received notices of three dogs and one cat being caught in traps.
Trappers of furbearers pay $29 for an unlimited number of traps that can be set 50 feet back from trails and roads, and 1,000 feet from campgrounds. According to the 2013 wolf trapping regulations, traps for wolves are required to have 150-foot setbacks from roads and trails on federal and state lands. However, keep in mind that traps for predators and non-game species have no rules or restrictions at all. They can be set anywhere, anytime. Trap-free areas around Missoula are Blue Mountain and Pattee Canyon recreation areas, and Bass Creek. The Rattlesnake Recreation Area is also trap-free, but dogs are prohibited from December through April.
As you recreate on your public lands, please be aware of the dangers of traps that could end in tragedy for your family. If you encounter a trap please contact Footloose Montana at 406-274-7878 or write firstname.lastname@example.org to report any trap sightings so the location can be put on our website map for others to check before they go out. Footloose Montana promotes trap-free public lands for people, pets and wildlife.
Constance J. Poten