A group of anti-trapping activists is back in action with a new ballot initiative that seeks to ban trapping on all public lands in Montana. Trap Free Montana Public Lands, the citizen's group behind the effort, must gather 24,175 signatures by the end of May in order to put Initiative 169 on the November ballot.
A similar initiative campaign in 2010 came within 1,500 signatures of qualifying for the ballot, but failed in the end. KC York, chair of Trap Free Montana Public Lands, is optimistic about the initiative's prospects this year. She worries, however, that some may try to mislead voters about her organization's intent.
"Our opponents try to argue that [the initiative] is a stepping stone to eliminate hunting and fishing next," she says. "Fishing and hunting are protected under our constitutions. It is a right to harvest wild fish and wild game that is protected under the constitution. Trapping is not."
In fact, she says the original ballot measure statement contained a sentence that addressed the issue directly: "[Initiative 169] does not apply to the taking of wildlife with firearms, fishing equipment or archery equipment." Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, while reviewing the initiative, decided to remove that language.
"We strive to keep the statements focused on what the measures actually do, not what they don't do," explained Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes in a written statement.
York calls the initiative moderate and notes its exceptions for trapping that contributes to scientific research and other public goods.
"I-169 only affects trapping and only on public lands. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, nearly 65 percent of the state is held in private ownership," York says. " ... Our initiative is fair, reasonable and good for Montana."
Nevertheless, trappers are organizing against the measure.
"Obviously we are in opposition to it," says Toby Walrath, president of the Montana Trappers Association. "This particular ballot initiative is trying to limit the use of one small group of individuals, namely trappers, and we don't want to see similar limitations spread to other groups who use public lands."