For the third time in the last several years, animal-rights advocates, funded by mostly out-of-state money, are attempting to get public trapping banned on over 30 million acres of Montana public land. This effort is now underway, trying to get thousands of Montana citizens in numerous legislative districts to sign petitions to allow the anti-public-land trapping initiative to get on the November ballot. Similar efforts in 2012 and 2014 failed.
Many of the supporters of this trapping ban are well-meaning but really don’t understand wildlife and wildlife management. Their goal is to end animal suffering, a noteworthy goal. But a ban on trapping on public land will do just the opposite. We also must realize this proposed ban on trapping is just the first step to ban all trapping, hunting and fishing in Montana.
While responsible hunters, anglers and trappers love wildlife, we do not worship wildlife. Unlike TV’s depiction of wildlife, most wildlife species do not have human-type emotions. Many adult fish, after guarding their eggs from other predators, will turn around and eat their offspring.
A few years ago, I had a group of young women visit my home. They came from New Jersey, and none came from families with a hunting background. They had been warned in advance that my home had many hunting trophies on the walls.
After a few minutes of viewing these trophies, one very nice young lady approached me and said, “Mr. Illi, don’t you ever feel bad about killing these animals?” My response was no, because all these animals were killed with a single bullet and all died within seconds of being hit by my bullet. All of these deaths were merciful and humane.
I asked, “How do you think animals die in the wild?” She thought for a moment, then said, “Well they, they just…” Her voice trailed off. She had never really thought about how wild animals die. A mature bull elk does not simply grow old and tired, bed down beneath the limbs of a ponderosa pine on a warm fall day, go to sleep and never wake up. That is a Disney- type ending, but not real death in the wild.
Here’s an example of a natural death. Last summer I was in Eastern Montana. I saw a hawk dive into the deep grass on my farm. When the hawk emerged, he had a meadowlark in his talons. The hawk flew to a nearby fence post. I put my binoculars on the scene. The poor meadowlark was on its back, tightly held there by the hawk. Its head was desperately pecking at the hawk and one wing was beating the hawk in an effort to get free. Meanwhile, the hawk’s lethal beak was digging into the breast of the meadowlark, eating it. The unfortunate meadowlark was literally being eaten while it was still alive.
That was a perfectly natural incident in the world of wildlife. The meadowlark suffered a horrific but natural death. Mother Nature is seldom kind and loving with no suffering. Quite the opposite is true. Most wildlife dies by starvation, weather factors or by the fangs of a predator.
Most trappers use modern trapping techniques that cause quick or instant death. You would have to be naive to believe that trapping, hunting or fishing absolutely never causes any pain or suffering for wildlife. Unfortunately, some suffering probably occurs. But in terms of wildlife suffering, most hunting, fishing and trapping deaths are a hundred times less painful than most natural deaths.
A recent letter to the editor by the anti-trapping crowd was full of misinformation. That writer said that for every wild animal trapped, two nontarget wild animals are caught. That is more nonsense. I have been trapping since I was a 12-year-old kid in Minnesota. Recently I trapped a nuisance beaver flooding my road. I have caught hundreds of furbearers and only once did I catch a nontarget animal — in a fox trap. The animal was released with just a sore foot. That anti-trapping letter was full of emotional rhetoric with no scientific basis.
Montana residents should be very cautious about throwing out scientific wildlife management in exchange for wildlife management based on TV cartoon concepts. Loose running dogs and cats on public land do more harm to wildlife species than trapping.
Meanwhile, enjoy some spring fishing, turkey hunting or bear hunting. Be sure to take the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks online black bear and grizzly bear identification test before going bear hunting. Enjoy.