August 28, 2013 | Volume 100 / Number 351

Wool Growers: Trapping Ban Wrong

The Montana Wool Growers Association (MWGA) on Tuesday submitted written comments to the Montana Attorney General’s Office pointing out the legal and constitutional problems with the proposed initiative to ban trapping on public lands in Montana. MWGA submitted comments in response to the Attorney General’s request of Aug. 21 seeking public comment on the proposed ballot initiative proposed by Timothy Provow of Missoula.

The initiative, if passed, would make it illegal to trap fur-bearing animals, game animals, predators, game birds, and upland game birds on any public lands (both federal and state) within Montana, including public lands leased by livestock producers and on school trust lands. The initiative would allow state and local wildlife officials to conduct trapping only in the limited circumstances of “scientific research” and for “public health and safety purposes.” However, no trapping would be allowed for game damage management purposes, for livestock protection purposes, or for commercial purposes.

In the association’s written comments, the Wool Growers called the initiative bad public policy and an effort that would interfere with the constitutionally protected right specified in Article IX, Section 7 of the Montana Constitution of Montana citizens to harvest wild fish and wild game animals “forever.”

The Wool Growers also noted that the language of the proposed initiative is misleading, biased, and patently false in that it asserts that trapping is ineffective tool for wildlife management and disease control and that trapping in Montana is not well regulated. The association pointed out that trapping is closely managed by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and that trapping is used as a tool by the department to prevent damage to public lands done by beavers, skunks and other furbearers.

In addition, the Association pointed out to the Attorney General that the statement of fiscal impact prepared by Governor Bullock’s budget office on this proposed initiative was wholly inadequate. The Wool Growers noted that the fiscal impact statement only analyzed the loss of revenue to the State as a result of the inability of FWP to sell trapping licenses, and failed to address the huge economic loss to the state as measured by the loss of income that is generated by pelt sales, which was estimated to be over $2 million in 2007, and in terms of livestock losses to agriculture producers that will accrue as a result of a predator trapping ban, a loss estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

Said Randy Tunby of Baker, President of the Montana Wool Growers Association, “We are very concerned about the legality and constitutionality of the proposed trapping ban. Trapping is a long-recognized, time-honored tool for managing predator populations in Montana and throughout the West. The ability of government and private trappers to trap predator species in Montana is key to both helping agriculture producers protect their livestock operations from predators and to maintaining the viability of Montana’s huntable big game populations. The reality of this initiative is that, if passed, trapping of gray wolves would be prohibited even though such trapping has been approved by the federal government, and agriculture producers would not be able to trap coyotes on their BLM and Forest Service allotments. This initiative is poor public policy, interferes with Montana’s harvesting heritage, and is designed purposefully to do harm to Montana’s top economic sector – the agriculture industry.”

MWGA Vice President Greg Wichman of Hilger stated, “The proposed trapping ban is a real threat to Montana’s agriculture industry. On behalf of Montana’s sheep industry, we strongly encourage every agriculture producer and sportsman to submit written comments to Attorney General Fox pointing out the legal and economic problems with the proposed trapping ban, and to encourage him to either deny the proposed initiative as being legally inadequate or to revise the content of the initiative to include language that clearly states that the implication of this initiative would be to ban trapping conducted on public lands for agriculture protection purposes and for wildlife damage management and conservation purposes, including the trapping of gray wolves, foxes, skunks, and coyotes.”

The Montana Attorney General’s office is taking public comment on the proposed initiative until noon on Friday, August 30, 2013. Public comments may be emailed to the following address: jonbennion@mt.gov.

The Montana Wool Growers Association is the State’s oldest agriculture organization. MWGA’s state convention will be held in December, 2013 in Billings, Montana. The proposed trapping ban will be a discussion topic at the state convention.

Questions on this release may be directed to Jim Brown at (406) 925-1745 or by email at thunderdomelaw@gmail.com.

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