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One million animal and plant species are at imminent risk of extinction.

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” notes Professor Josef Settele, a contributor to the recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

It is clear that if we continue on our path of profit at any cost, consumerism, and massive trapping of wild animals for ‘recreation and profit,’ Montana will contribute to pushing some animal species over the cliff of no return.

The United Nations report urged “transformative changes needed locally and globally to restore and protect nature.”

We need leadership now. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks could immediately suspend recreational trapping of Montana’s wildlife because the governmental agency realizes that it is urgent to start preserving wild animals. FWP administers its trapping program strictly for recreation. In Montana alone, trappers brutally kill tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of wild animals caught in leghold traps, conibears and snares, every trapping season. If these animals were allowed to survive, they would hopefully enjoy their lives, including raising a family and by doing so, fulfill important ecological functions crucial to ecosystem resilience.

Recently FWP’s Bob Inman stated that beavers are everywhere they can be on the landscape. That is true in the narrowest sense. It ignores the facts that an estimated 60 million beavers lived in North America in 1492, and that beaver trapping was banned for a century in Montana because wholesale trapping of these water engineers caused statewide desertification.

Closing beaver trapping would be an enlightened start as was done in the 1870s when the Montana Territorial Legislature banned beaver trapping on public land to restore and protect ground water. Protection gradually eroded and in 1993 beaver trapping became unlimited again.

Wetlands are among the most critically threatened habitats that provide for high species diversity and storage of water we all depend on. Beavers create life-sustaining wetlands. Yet, Montana’s recreational trappers kill an unlimited number of beavers every year for fur and recreation.

In the era of climate change and accelerating extinction crisis caused by humans, the massive recreational trapping of wild animals becomes not only appallingly ludicrous but dangerous for all of us. Sir Robert Watson, IBPES chair, noted that exploitive human activity is “eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Montana provides headwaters for the entire continent, but trapping has caused a steep decline of beavers (and other wild animals), which has dried up streams and wetlands for beavers to inhabit. However, there are still suitable places for reintroduced beavers to thrive — but only if traps are off the landscape.

No environmental impact statement has ever been conducted to assess the major ecological impacts of removing tens of thousands of animals from their habitats by Montana trappers every year. Such a scientific assessment would likely show damaging shock waves to ecosystems. Indiscriminate trapping unravels a strong network of stability in ecosystems we depend on.

Continued trapping will have massive consequences, not only for wildlife and ecosystems, but also for future human generations. Without courageous leadership from our wildlife agency and government officials, Montana will bear the responsibility for great and bitter loss. Contact the FWP Commission at FWPcomm@mt.gov and Gov. Steve Bullock at Governor@mt.gov to request the closing of recreational trapping, starting with beavers.

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Anja Heister, of Missoula, is a co-founder of Footloose Montana, a nonprofit organization that promotes trap-free public lands for people, pets and wildlife. She holds a PhD in wildlife conservation, ethics and public policy from the University of Montana.

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