Are Wolf Traps Inhumane?

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Photo: Fremlin/CC 2.0/Flickr

Going into 2012 Montana's wolf population exceeded 600. Looking for more ways to keep the population in check, the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Commission passed new rules on Thursday, July 12, that will allow wolves to be trapped. This is despite vehement protests; the commission received more than 7,000 comments opposing the use of trapping as a wolf management tactic.

Trapping is allowed for other species in Montana and is allowed for hunting wolves in neighboring Idaho. A trap is used to capture an animal, generally by a limb, and hold it in place until a hunter can reach it and kill it. To state the very obvious, trapping has long been viewed as inhumane by animal rights advocates. But many hunters also oppose the practice.

This spring, images of a man smiling and posing in front of a trapped wolf that was bleeding and struggling (along with more photos of the hunter and the wolf carcass) were discovered on a pro-trapping website called and then shared widely online, leading to an outcry. This undoubtedly stoked the thousands of comments received by the commission urging it to not allow wolf trapping.

(The hunter in the images is reportedly named Josh Bransford, a federal employee and public servant out of Idaho's Red River Ranger District in the Nez Perce National Forest. I called the ranger district to confirm but have not yet heard back.)

But the protests are also based on concerns that traps meant for wolves—especially those laid on public lands—could instead capture off-leash dogs. Footloose Montana, based in Florence, has led the charge against the use of traps, pointing to a number of dog deaths and injuries due to the animals being caught in traps. Its members reportedly received death threats after publicizing images of the aforementioned trapper.

This all comes on the heels of a series of articles by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee about Wildlife Services, a branch of the Department of Agriculture that is tasked with killing animals that threaten agriculture or the public. The investigation found that the agency has accidentally killed more than 50,000 non-target animals using steel traps, wire snares and poison. This includes golden and bald eagles and more than 1,100 dogs.

Commissioner Dan Vermillion told the Associated Press that the panel's goal is to reduce the wolf population in the state, but it also wants to ensure a viable population remains in order to avoid having wolves become re-listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Last season, the state put a quota of 220 wolf kills, but hunters failed to meet that limit, taking just 166. That is what led the panel to approve the new rules, which also lift that quota statewide except in two hunting districts near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Here are the new rules: The 2012-13 wolf season will begin September 1 for archery hunters, September 15 for backcountry rifle-hunting and October 15 for all other rifle-hunting, and run through February 28. The window for legal wolf trapping will open on December 15 and run through February. In early December, the panel is to review the population and may adjust the rules based on how many wolves have been taken by then.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor