My lifetime as a Montanan leaves me a special perspective on fur trapping and the role it played in the history of Montana and our nation.
As a young person in the 1930s and 1940s, I knew a few of the remaining mountain men who traveled the back country wilderness in pursuit of fur. Their lives were filled, as were those of their immediate predecessors, with mystic reflections of the early-day mountain men that they followed.
Trapping was an important part of the lives of these people who settled and also explored so much of our wilderness and incomparable back country. For me they carried a special mystique.
It was this that caused me to pursue the boyhood hobby of trapping muskrat and the occasional mink. I value this experience for the time it gave me learning about my ill-fated prey and most importantly the wild places in which they lived. For me, it was important as I matured to realize the animal cruelty and suffering this inflicted.
In a career as a wildlife field biologist I became acutely aware of the natural world in which I was able to observe and gain understanding of wildlife in nature. This also gave me perspective of my role as a human being in enjoying these animals as they are born and live out their lives in nature’s world and of the role we play as harvesters of some ungulate and other species where this becomes necessary.
Trapping has been part of our history and the settlement of our nation. But the day is gone when trapping as a way of life is a mainstay in maintaining our personal livelihood and the economies of our communities. We as a people have gone through maturing change to appreciate wildlife populations in nature where they are free to roam and thrive unmolested by humans. And although trapping is indeed a part of our history, it is not something that we need to perpetuate in any form or shape in modern society.
So the rich stories of mountain men and trappers are history. They are a reminder of where we have been but they cannot be condoned as a guide to our future. Trapping of furbearers is a remnant which can be put in historic perspective but which we must discontinue with the growing maturity of our society and natural born love for animals in the wild. It is a thing of the past, but not of the future.