Enshrining trapping in the Montana Constitution by changing only a couple words drew equal measures of support and opposition during a House Fish, Wildlife and Parks hearing on Tuesday in Helena.
“This simply adds the word ‘harvest’ and puts it into the statute that governs fishing and hunting and trapping,” said Rep. Kirk Wagoner, R-Montana City, who sponsored the bill, House Bill 212.
Montanans protected hunting and fishing as a constitutional right in a 2004 ballot measure passed by 80 percent of the state’s voters. Former state Sen. Joe Balyeat, who drafted the language for the voter information guide, said he believed the intent of the constitutional amendment was always to include trapping.
Numerous members of the trapping community stepped forward to support the measure, including Toby Walrath, president of the Montana Trappers Association.
“This bill is important to me because I cherish the time I spent in the field with my father” and now my son, he said.
A representative of the Montana Farm Bureau and Montana Stockgrowers also supported the measure, saying the ag groups see trapping as an effective tool for predator control.
Opponents argued that trapping is not like hunting because there is no fair chase and it is only done for monetary compensation.
“I don’t believe trapping belongs in the same sentence as hunting,” said Robin Layton.
Foes also expressed concerns about the placement of traps that can ensnare recreationists and their dogs along trails, and one said he sees the bill as a move to prevent any future anti-trapping initiatives.
“These animals are in the public trust,” said Carol Kindschy of Helena. “This shouldn’t be settled in here.”
Tuesday’s hearing was the first on the bill, so the committee took no action.