Trappers set free in Big Sky state

  After several months of debate, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners recently voted on new trapping regulations.

Most of the rules will remain the same.

"The trapping community in Montana has done quite well," says Kevin Feist, a Kalispell-area man who advocates more stringent rules. "They only have to do a couple Fish, Wildlife and Parks meetings a year, show up with their big loud voices, and the commission seems to listen to that constituency more than the rest of the public."

Feist spent seven months on a committee set up by the state wildlife department to write recommendations for new trapping rules - a process set in motion after his dog Buddy was killed in a Conibear trap while out for a romp with Feist's wife, Liz Kehr (HCN, 4/12/99). The couple formed a group called Friends of Buddy, and have been lobbying for tighter restrictions ever since.

Among the proposals the agency failed to adopt are mandatory trap check periods, limits on the kind of bait allowed, and large buffer zones between traplines, roads and ski trails. Feist says he's mystified by some of the agency's decisions: While polls showed the public supported larger buffer zones around traps by a nine-to-one margin, the agency nevertheless went for a lesser 30-foot option.

One positive change, Feist says, is a new measure that requires so-called "breakaway devices' on snare traps, so that animals like deer and elk can break free if they get caught by accident.

Brian Giddings, the agency's furbearer coordinator, says Feist's expectations were too high. "A lot of people think that because they write a letter, that's the way things will go," he says. "Public comment gets taken into consideration, but it doesn't mean the commission will make those changes."

For their part, trappers are pleased that the agency made no drastic changes. "We say, "educate instead of regulate," "''''says Fran Buell of the Montana Trapping Association. "If there's too much regulation, a trapper can't do his job."

*Andrea Barnett