After multiple attempts in past legislative sessions, Montana lawmakers are again considering whether to make trapper education mandatory.
Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, is carrying a bill that came out of the Environmental Quality Council, a legislative interim committee, that would mandate that most new trappers would first need to complete a trapper education course. The bill would make trapping comparable to hunting in Montana that require safety courses for hunting and bowhunting.
“I think for me the bottom line is this has been debated in the Legislature for at least 14 years and we’ve had four or five false starts and it is long past due,” Flowers told the committee.
Trapper education has been offered on a voluntary basis from the Montana Trappers Association for years. The course teaches ethics and best practices, equipment regulations and avoiding conflict with other recreationists.
Although both trapping advocates and trapping opponents have publically called for mandatory education for years, the general controversy around trapping itself has posed issues with getting it through the Legislature. A bill in 2019 promoted by some trapping opponents was eventually killed in committee after trappers said they were not included early on in the process. EQC then took the issue up with former Bozeman Rep. Kerry White pushing the bill through the interim.
The bill as it currently stands requires a Montana resident born after Jan. 1, 1985 to complete a state trapper education course unless trapping for livestock protection or having completed the MTA’s youth trapper camp. The bill also creates a new license for hunting bobcats as under current law, hunting bobcats may only be don’t with a trappers license.
The MTA did not testify on the bill Tuesday but did send a short written statement of support and encouraging lawmakers on the Senate Fish and Game Committee to pass it.
Conservation groups including the Montana Wildlife Federation, Back Country Hunters and Anglers as well as Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks testified in support of the bill.
“This is a good step forward for the benefit of trapping in our state,” said Nick Gevock with the federation.
Marc Cooke with Wolves of the Rockies testified against the bill, criticizing its drafting during the interim in a process he did not feel was inclusive.
“I think out of fairness to all Montanans, to those that trap and don’t trap, that ought to be taken into consideration,” he said of the process.
Also testifying against the bill were KC York with Trap Free Montana Public Lands and trapper Michael Roddewig, who both felt the age cutoff was a poor metric for who should require trapper education. In similar testimony they felt that someone born before 1985 could be just as inexperienced as someone born after and that experience such as previously purchased trapping licenses could offer a better sideboard.
The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.
Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.