MT Wardens seeking information on elk poaching at Montana game range

HAMILTON – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are hoping the public will help them track down people who killed two elk on a game range and left one to rot Wednesday.

FWP Warden Capt. Joe Jaquith said someone killed two elk on the Three Mile Game Range northeast of Stevensville either late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

The poachers drove behind a closed sign to retrieve one of the elk and left the other cow elk behind.

“We are hoping to talk with anyone coming in or out of the game range (Wednesday) morning who saw a vehicle with an elk in the back,” Jaquith said. “We are interested in getting any information that people might be able to provide about that.”

Jaquith urged anyone with information to call the TIP-MONT hotline at 800-847-6668.

Anyone providing information that leads to an arrest in the case will be eligible for a reward. Those providing information can remain anonymous.

Trap-free Montana initiative reaches signature-gathering stage


October 15, 2015 8:00 am  • 

A proposed ballot initiative to restrict and criminalize trapping on Montana’s public lands has passed its first hurdle.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office approved the gathering of signatures for the November 2016 general election on Oct. 6. Proponents have set out to gather 24,175 qualified signatures from at least 34 house districts by June 17.

The numbers represent 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election and one-third of Montana’s house districts.

It’s the third time in six years an anti-trapping initiative has reached the signature-gathering stage. Efforts in 2010 and last year failed to garner the required number of signatures.

Initiative 177 would prohibit most commercial and recreational trapping and snaring for animals on public lands and establish misdemeanor criminal penalties for violations.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks could still use certain traps if nonlethal methods have been tried and found ineffective. Government employees and their agents could trap problem predators such as bears or mountain lions, or problem beavers or muskrats to mitigate damage to irrigation works on public lands.

Trapping by public officials could also be used to conduct “specified scientific and wildlife management activities,” according to the approved language of the initiative.

Proponents of I-177 say the law would address public safety concerns, control the “inhumane and indiscriminate” nature of traps, and relieve what they call the unsustainable pressure trapping puts on dwindling and endangered species.

Opponents argue it prohibits from using public lands the segment of the public who traps. They say the measure would drive up costs of state and federal wildlife management while reducing revenue, and it would handcuff those agencies from their charges of managing wildlife.

Chris Justice of Missoula, executive director of Footloose Montana and volunteer for Montana for Trap-Free Public Lands (MTFPL), said the initiative attempt in 2014 that got a late start and garnered just 10,000 signatures was sponsored by a separate group with a similar name: Trap-Free Montana Public Lands.

Justice said in crafting the current initiative, MTFPL focused on “very clearly defining in what cases the state still reserves the power to trap. Previous attempts have left that more ambiguous.”

House Bill 212, passed by the 2015 Legislature, went into effect Oct. 1. In part, it clarified that the word “harvest” in the Montana Constitution includes trapping. Opponents of the trap-free initiative maintain a constitutional amendment is needed to ban trapping. That would require twice as many signatures to get onto the ballot.

“We’re discouraged,” said Keith Kubista of Stevensville, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and a vocal opponent of a trapping ban. “We’ve written many comments to the attorney general and others that suggest trapping is part of our constitutional right to harvest fish and game. That’s the foundation on which we’re going to approach this.”


Montana for Trap-Free Public Lands (MTFPL), with support from Footloose Montana, say trapping and snaring must go, or at least be eliminated from the public lands that constitute 35 percent of Montana.

“Under current law, trappers are able to set an unlimited number of traps, warning signs are not required, and trappers are advised but not required to check their traps in any specific period of time,” MTFPL said in a press release Wednesday.

“Montanans should not have to compromise peace of mind, welfare of children, and pet safety when using their own public land,” said Justice.

Trapping conflicts with hunting ethics, added Dr. Tim Provow, a Missoula anesthesiologist and president of the MTFPL and Footloose Montana boards.

Deal approved to protect grizzly bear habitat in Montana

U.S. judge on Friday approved a deal between conservationists and Montana officials to restrict road-building and logging in roughly 22,000 acres (8,900 hectares) of state forest lands that make up core habitat for federally protected grizzlies.

The agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by conservationists after the state had sought to open 37,000 acres (14,974 hectares), mostly in the Stillwater State Forest, to timber harvesting despite what environmentalists said would be the destruction of prime grizzly bear territory.

The deal restricting road-building and logging in the Stillwater and Coal Creek state forests west of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is designed to benefit the so-called Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzlies, which is one of just five groups of grizzlies in the lower 48 states.

Montana will ban motorized access during certain times outside of winter when grizzlies are using that landscape, prohibit permanent road construction, reclaim any temporary roads and shorten the duration of logging projects, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy in a decision last year found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing a permit to Montana for the project opening up the expanse to the timber industry.

Montana appealed the judge’s ruling and conservation groups later appealed separate parts of the decision, leading to a stalemate that set the stage for both sides to hammer out a settlement.

Molloy approved the agreement on Friday, said attorney Tim Preso of the firm Earthjustice, which represented the conservation groups.

Grizzly bears were classified in 1975 as threatened in the Lower 48 states after they neared extinction from hunting, trapping and poisoning.

Federal protections make it broadly illegally to injure or kill the large, hump-shouldered bruins or destroy their designated habitat without a special permit.

The settlement comes after a federal-state panel managing grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Wyoming, said a separate population of about 700 bears has recovered and recommended they be stripped of federal protections.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision on delisting soon.

Preso said the deal struck between conservationists and Montana will protect lands for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzlies even if U.S. wildlife managers remove that population from the endangered species list.

Montana officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Victoria Cavaliere)

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Speak for Wolves: August 7-9, 2015

August 7-9, 2015
West Yellowstone, Montana

An opportunity for the American people to unite and demand wildlife management reform and restore our national heritage.
 film by Predator Defense – a national nonprofit helping people & wildlife coexist since 1990.
Approximately 3500 gray wolves have been slaughtered in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes region in the United States over the last few years. Under state management, wolves have been hounded, baited, trapped, snared and/or killed by hunters in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Wolves have been aerial gunned in Washington and, most recently, shot in Utah.Speak for Wolves: Yellowstone 2015 is about taking an important step towards stopping the wolf slaughter that is currently taking place across the United States. Learn more

Organizations Team Up in the Wake of a Severed Mountain Lion Foot Found in a Trap

Missoula, Mont. (April 14, 2015) – An unlikely alliance between the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association, Footloose Montana, and In Defense of Animals is calling on Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) for more accountability in the management of mountain lions in the Big Sky State after the gruesome and horrific discovery of a severed mountain lions limb in a foothold trap. The alliance is seeking a reduction in the overall quota of mountain lions in the Bitterroot Valley, by counting trap-related injuries and deaths toward the overall hunting quota, and by holding trappers accountable.

The severed mountain lion foot was discovered around March 24 by a resident in the Bitterroot Valley. He reported deep claw marks on a nearby tree, indicating that the estimated four-year-old male lion was desperately trying to seek shelter and escape the source of pain – a foothold trap set for wolves. Thanks to recreational and commercial trapping, this mountain lion is likely dead now, either succumbing to starvation, attack by other carnivores, shock, or a painful infection of the severed limb.

The illegally set trap had no identification tag attached to it, and was placed outside the official wolf trapping season, which ended on February 28.
According to Anja Heister with In Defense of Animals, “At least 15 mountain lions have been reported to FWP as caught in traps specifically set for wolves in addition to other species over the course of two trapping seasons, between 2012 and 2014. Yet, these tragic trapping-related injuries and mortalities do not count toward the overall quota for mountain lions. They are also considered merely “incidental” and go unpunished.”

The FWP Commission meets this Wednesday, April 15 to deliberate the quota for the 2015 mountain lion hunting season and we strongly encourage them to adopt the inclusion of incidental mortalities. “There is no question that the mortality of mountain lions exceeds what the Commission allows,” said Cal Ruark, former president of the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association. “It is time to reconcile the two numbers and reduce the quota, as well as acknowledging so-called “non-target incidents” as what they are – deaths of animals, which, at a very minimum, need to be recognized and counted.”

The Commission must be empowered and do the right thing as a result of this recent disturbing discovery. The maiming and likely subsequent death of this mountain lion is not an isolated incident and the time has come to make bold changes and offer dynamic solutions in order to prevent further animals from suffering the same horrific fate.

Chewed-off Canadian lynx foot--another trapping victim.  Photo by Jim Robertson

Chewed-off Canadian lynx foot–another trapping victim. Photo by Jim Robertson

Cougar Chews Off Foot to Escape Wolf Trap

Photo Jim Robertson

Photo Jim Robertson

I’ve had more than my share of heart-wrenching experiences with the gruesome evils of trapping. On a walk near our home in Eastern Washington, my dog stepped into a leg-hold trap that clamped down onto his front paw, prying his toes apart. He cried out in terror and frantically tried to shake it off, biting at the trap, at his paw, and at me as I fought to open the mindless steel jaws. The trap continued to cut deeper into his tender flesh and my efforts caused him even more pain. Finally, after many harrowing minutes, I was able to loosen the torture device enough for him to pull his foot free.  

Another dog I freed was caught in two leg-hold traps. One was latched onto her front leg, while the second gripped her hind leg, forcing her to remain standing for untold agonizing hours. Judging by how fatigued and dehydrated she was, she had been stuck there for several days. The sinister traps caused so much damage that a vet had to amputate one of her injured legs.  

With no other hope of escape and feeling vulnerable to anyone that comes along, many trapped animals resort to amputating their own leg. Trappers callously label this grim act of despair “wring-off”. Truly, freedom is precious to any animal desperate enough to take this extreme step. But if they don’t bleed to death or die from infection, they spend the rest of their lives crippled and quite possibly unable to keep up with a demanding life in the wild. Unlike the fictional character “Little Big Man,” who was distraught to the brink of suicide when he found that an animal had chewed off its leg to escape one of his traps, most trappers who find a wring-off are indifferent to the suffering they caused as they begrudgingly pitch the chewed-off limb and reset their trap.   

While I was camped near Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in B.C., Canada, in late March, my dog found just such a discarded limb–the front leg of a trapped lynx. In what has to be one of the more deceitful abuses of trust ever, free roaming animals– safely protected within the arbitrary boundaries of parks– lose all such protection and are deemed “fair game” for trapping as soon as they step across an invisible dividing line. Trappers consider the lands adjoining parks the most “productive” and will pay tens of thousands of dollars for permits to run trap-lines in those areas. I’ve had the displeasure of seeing three-legged coyotes near the North Cascades National Park, and within the Grand Tetons National Park.  

Sidestepping the indisputable cruelty issue, pro-trapping factions try to perpetuate the myth that trapping is sustainable. But time and again entire populations of “furbearers” are completely trapped out of an area, often within a single season. The winter after I found wolf tracks in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, all seven members of a pack who had found a niche in and around that preserve were killed–permissibly “harvested”– by trappers. Though wolves are extinct or endangered in most of the U.S., 1,500 are legally trapped in Alaska each year.

The preceding was excerpt from the book Exposing the Big Game,

No animal should EVER go through the evil of trapping. And yet, in Montana, the Missoulian just reported that a mountain lion just got caught in a wolf trap: Mountain lion paw in wolf trap upsets Darby ex-houndsman

April 11, 2015 8:00 am  •  by

HAMILTON – A mountain lion paw found torn off in a wolf trap has a former houndsman from Darby asking for change in the way the state manages the predator.

A little over two weeks ago, a friend of Cal Ruark’s dropped off the trap with the severed lion paw in it.

Ruark – a former president of the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association and now a mountain lion advocate – said his friend was antler hunting in the Reimel Creek area, east of the Sula Ranger District, when he made the gruesome find.

The man told Ruark there were deep claw marks in a tree near the location of the trap.

“He told me the trees were all tore to hell,” Ruark said. “The drag on the trap was hung up on a tree and there were claw marks on the trees where the lion had stood up on its back legs and tried to climb.”

Ruark is sure the mountain lion didn’t survive.

“It might have been able to get along for a little while, but it’s dead now,” he said. “It can’t hunt on three legs.”

Every year, mountain lions die after being caught in traps set for wolves or other furbearers.

Under the current rules, those dead lions are not considered under the quota system that Fish, Wildlife and Parks uses to manage mountain lion numbers.

Ruark believes that needs to change. He will take that request before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its regular meeting this month.


KC York of Hamilton is leading an effort place a referendum on the ballot that could ban all trapping on public lands.

York said between October 2013 and February 2015, 32 mountain lions were captured in traps set for furbearers other than wolves. State records showed that 21 died, six suffered some type of damage to their paws, but were released and another five were set free unharmed.

“So 84 percent of those mountain lions captured in non-wolf sets were either dead or injured,” York said. “Only one of those trappings was determined to be illegal.”

In the two years that wolf trapping has been legal in Montana, York said state FWP records show that 16 mountain lions were caught in traps set for wolves. Five of those lions died.

York said 96 percent of the trappings were considered legal.

“You can’t legally trap a mountain lion in Montana,” she said. “These trappings are considered incidental. It goes with the territory of trapping in this state.”

Anja Heister, co-founder of Footloose Montana, said no one knows for sure how often a mountain lion loses a paw or toes to a trap.

“It was a horrific sight,” Heister said about the lion’s paw in the trap. “This was an incident that was actually discovered. No one knows for sure how often it happens. Trappers have a term for it when an animal loses a foot or a toe. They call it twist off or ring off.”


The Ravalli Republic contacted Montana Trapping Association president Toby Walrath of Corvallis for a comment on this story. Walrath said he would either provide a written comment or a phone contact for someone else in the organization Thursday night. By Friday’s end, the newspaper had received neither.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional wildlife manager Mike Thompson said all he could say about the issue at this point is that it was being investigated.

Ruark said he wants people to know about this.

“There are a lot of people who should be angry about this lion caught in a wolf trap,” Ruark said. “Trappers should be mad because it makes them look bad. Outfitters should be thoroughly angry because they get $5,000 a pop from their clients to kill one and now there’s one less to hunt. The fact that it’s not counted toward the quota should make local houndsmen angry, too. Everyone involved should be upset.

“But unless there’s a consequence, it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “It’s not right to ignore it when a mountain lion dies.”

If someone put all the mountain lions that died after being trapped in a pile and took a photograph, Ruark said people would pay attention.

“From my perspective, these incidental kills should be counted,” he said.

Bald Eagle Was Found In A Trap

This Bald Eagle Was Found In A Trap. Now She’s Finally Flying Free.

A female bald eagle has been released back into the wild, a month after being found stuck in a leg trap and suffering from elevated lead levels.

courtesy Jordan Spyke

Jordan Spyke, assistant director of the Montana Raptor Conservation Center (MRCC), told The Huffington Post that bald eagles can easily be lured by baited traps as they scavenge for food on the ground.

Fortunately, someone in Fort Belknap, Montana found the bird in the trap before she starved to death. On March 2, she became “Patient 14-15″ at MRCC.

“We don’t name any of our birds,” Spyke explained. “We don’t want to get attached to them or anything like that.”

Blood tests revealed that this bald eagle had elevated lead levels, likely from eating spent shot left by hunters. The trap had cut off circulation to her foot, so her toe had to be amputated. A local vet performed the surgery.

eagle surgery

Spyke and his team also treated the bird to remove the lead from her system. She was given flight therapy in their customized flight barn, the only such facility in Montana.

After a month of careful treatment, she was ready to return to the wild.

On April 1, the MRCC team put the eagle into a large crate and loaded her into their “raptor van” for the ride to the Headwaters National Park. As volunteers held the crate door open, the eagle’s eyes slowly adjusted to the light. The spectators made her nervous, they said, but she flew out and was on her way.

Spyke said releasing the bird after the “double whammy” of an amputation and lead poisoning “feels pretty great.” He said the eagle seemed happy to stretch her nearly 8-foot wingspan, too.

“It flew great,” Spyke recalls. “It came up with wings open, got the wind, and barreled out of there.”

MRCC treats about 180 raptors a year, Spyke said, many for severe injuries from gunshots, electrocution and car collisions. The center is able to rehabilitate and release about 40 percent of its patients.

After nearly disappearing in the 1960s, the American Bald Eagle population has returned to healthy levels thanks to decades of conservation efforts. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife service removed them from the endangered species

Urgent: Tell Montana Legislators to Reject Bill to Protect Fur Trapping Interests

In Defense of Animals

On April 7, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) House Committee will vote on SB 334, and your voice is urgently needed to defeat this detrimental and deceptive bill aimed at furthering the interests of the Montana’s recreational and commercial trappers and fur dealers.

SB 334 seeks to include furbearing animals under the term “game” animal. This means that the word ‘trapping’would no longer be used, and trapping is then completely subsumed under “hunting” in a sneaky effort to hide a cruel and unnecessary activity that is generally abhorred by the public.

SB 334 would also add three animal species, currently categorized as non-game species—badgers, raccoons and red foxes—to species currently classified as “predators”, so that a fur dealer in Montana could then buy and sell the pelts from these species.

SB 334 was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Fielder, who is on the board of the Sanders County Resource Council, which serves as a front group for militia activity, and she is a strong proponent of transferring federally managed public lands to the state so that privatization and exploitation can ensue. Her husband, Paul Fielder, is a district director of the Montana Trapper Association (MTA), who is heavily lobbying for this bill.

Click here to learn more and take action.

Montana’s wolf population drops

by Tribune Staff 12:02 p.m. MDT April 3, 2015

Montana’s verified wolf population declined by 73, or 12 percent, last year while livestock depredations by wolves continued to decline, dropping about 46 percent from 2013.

The minimum number of wolves counted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the end of 2014 was 554 compared to a minimum of 627 wolves counted at the end of 2013 according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s annual wolf conservation and management report.

Montana’s minimum wolf packs were counted at 134, compared to 152 last year, while breeding pairs increased to 33 from 28 counted last year.

The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually verified by FWP wolf specialists. The actual number of wolves is estimated to be 27 percent to 37 percent higher than the minimum count. FWP’s complete report is available online at

Overall, FWP Director Jeff Hagener said Montana’s wolf population continues to be very healthy and far above federal recovery goals.

“Among the best news is that confirmed wolf depredations on livestock again took a significant drop in 2014,” Hagener said.

Confirmed livestock depredations because of wolves included 35 cattle, six sheep and one horse in 2014, down 46 percent from 2013 losses of 50 cattle, 24 sheep, three horses and one goat. Cattle losses in 2014 were the lowest recorded in the past eight years.

The decline in wolf depredations continues a general downward trend that began in 2009.

“For FWP, and we hope for others, it reinforces the fact that we not only have more tools for managing wolf populations, but that we’re applying them effectively,” Hagener said. “One of our top priorities is to minimize livestock losses, and we think we’re continuing to make a positive impact there.”

The continuing decrease in livestock depredations over the past four years may be a result of several factors including targeted wolf depredation responses in cooperation with USDA Wildlife Services, and the effects of wolf harvest by hunters and trappers.

In the 2014 calendar portion of the 2014-15 hunting/trapping season, 213 were taken by hunters and trappers compared to 231 taken in the 2013 calendar portion of the 2013-14 season.

The total number of known wolf mortalities during 2014 was 308, down from 335 in 2013, with 301 of these mortalities being human-related, including 213 legal harvests, 57 control actions to further reduce livestock depredations (down from 75 in 2013), 11 vehicle strikes, 10 illegal killings, six killed under the newly-enacted Montana State Senate Bill 200, two capture-related mortalities, one euthanized because of poor health and one legal tribal harvest. In addition, one wolf died of natural causes and six of unknown causes.

“Montana’s wolf management program seeks to manage wolves just like we do other wildlife — in balance with their habitat, with other wildlife species and with the people who live here,” Hagener said.

For the purpose of reporting minimum counts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana is divided into three areas that reflect the former gray wolf federal recovery zones. The three zones cover the entire state and include more than one FWP region. Following is a summary of the 2014 minimum counts verified for those areas:

In the “Northwest Montana” area, counts showed a minimum of 338 wolves in 91 verified packs and 17 breeding pairs, compared to 412, 104, and 16, respectively, in 2013.

In the Montana portion of the “Central Idaho” area counts verified a minimum of 94 wolves in 20 packs, with six breeding pairs, compared to the 2013 counts of 123, 26, and seven respectively.

The Montana portion of the “Greater Yellowstone” counts include a minimum of 122 wolves in 23 packs, and 11 breeding pairs, compared to 132, 22, and five, respectively in 2013.

The recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid-1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. FWP began monitoring the wolf population, and managing livestock conflicts in 2004. After several court challenges wolves were taken off the Endangered Species list in 2011.

The delisting of wolves in 2011 allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules and laws.

copyrighted wolf in river