HELENA, Montana – Wolf trapping season began on January 1 in several valleys across Montana, following a delay due to concerns for the safety of grizzly bears. Trappers in the Clearwater, Swan, and Blackfoot Valleys have already started setting snares and traps. The season was initially halted by a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, arguing that the traps inadvertently ensnare federally-protected grizzly bears. However, the lawsuit only resulted in a suspension of early-and-late season trapping, not a complete ban on trapping from January 1 to February 15.
The controversy surrounding wolf trapping centers on the need to manage wolf populations in order to maintain healthy ecosystems. Trapper Bob Sheppard believes that trapping is an essential aspect of maintaining the balance of the landscape. He views the lawsuit as an attempt to completely ban trapping in the future, rather than an effort to protect grizzly bears. Sheppard argues that failure to manage wolf populations would have disastrous consequences.
Wolf trapping has been legal in Montana since 2013 when gray wolves were removed from the Endangered Species Act. The state’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) department now manages the wolf population and sets quotas in different regions. Trappers must adhere to strict regulations, including checking traps every 48 hours and reporting accidental trapping within 24 hours.
While some trappers have reached their maximum quota of 10 wolves, others, like Rob Henrekin, have found trapping wolves to be a challenging task due to their intelligence and ability to avoid human detection. Despite appreciating the role of wolves in the ecosystem, Henrekin believes that they need to be managed to prevent disruptions in the local food chain.
Wolf trapping has faced considerable opposition, with numerous lawsuits attempting to either halt trapping altogether or prevent the reintroduction of wolves. Critics argue that the state lacks a comprehensive wolf management plan and that less restrictive regulations have further threatened the wolf population. In 2021, the issue gained national attention when Montana Governor Greg Gianforte illegally shot a wolf near Yellowstone National Park.
Supporters of trapping, like Henrekin, question why trapping faces intense scrutiny while other human-animal interactions that result in grizzly bear deaths are not similarly criticized. Despite understanding the concerns surrounding wild animals, Henrekin believes that nature itself can be cruel and that responsible trapping is necessary for managing wolf populations.
In summary, Montana’s wolf trapping season has commenced after a delay caused by concerns for grizzly bear safety. Trappers believe that responsible trapping is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, while critics argue that it poses a threat to endangered species. The controversy surrounding wolf trapping in the state is ongoing, with lawsuits attempting to curtail trapping activities.