Pet owners beware: traps set on Helena public lands in popular recreation areas

By now you’ve probably seen the headline in Sunday’s Helena Independent Record:

“Traps Snare Anger”

The news has been circulating on Facebook and Twitter since the Helena Vigilante first reported signs showing up at the Dump Gulch trailhead warning hikers and pet owners that  a trapper was trapping in the area of the popular city park trail system.

I saw the Vigilante story late last week, but when I awoke to the IR headline on Sunday morning it reinforced my trepidation about taking my curious, fun-loving lab into the hills around Helena.

I’ve seen what snares, leg-hold traps, and conibear traps can do to pets. I’ve written about this issue in the past and I’ve attended educational workshops so I have pretty decent understanding of how to release most traps. Still, I didn’t want to put my 90-pound lab mix at risk of getting injured or killed, so we decided to go hiking in the Scratchgravel Hills instead the Helena city parks. Besides, I wanted to see if there was anything left of the disc golf course following last summer’s wildfire.

About 15 minutes into our hike, not far from a disc golf tone (like the cup in ball golf), Neko caught a scent of something interesting and ran uphill ahead of me. When I crested the hill I saw what caught her attention:

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Lucky for Neko this fox was snared long ago. Had this snare still been set, it might have been Neko caught in that trap. No question whatever bait was used to attract the fox would have attracted my curious lab, and I might have found myself struggling to free a 90-pound trashing dog from a choking snare before it was too late.

Unlike at the Dump Gulch trailhead, I saw no signs at the trailhead warning pet owners of traps in the area. Whoever set the trap set it less than 150 feet from a trail and very near the disc golf course area.

It appears to me the trapper who set that trap also broke at least two Montana laws governing furbearer trapping:

Checking and Placing Traps – Traps should be checked at least once every 48 hours. It is the trapper’s responsibility to check his/her traps regularly. Failure to pick up traps or snares at the end of the trapping season or attending them in a manner that waste furbearing animals constitutes a misdemeanor per Montana law.

Trap Identification – Metal identification tags must be fastened to all traps and snares as per Montana law. Metal tags must bear the name and address of the trapper or a personal identification number, which is the trappers date of birth and ALS number. Tags should be attached to the end of the snare, chain or other anchoring material at the end farthest from the portion of the device which holds the animal.

This fox had been dead a long time by the time Neko found it. Certainly a lot longer than 48 hours. Its eyes were dried up in its sockets and it was well along in the process of decomposing. Also, there were no tags or markers anywhere identifying the trapper or his/her ALS number.

My advice to pet owners who enjoy hiking in and around popular public recreation areas is to watch the video below and learn how to release all traps. Leg-hold traps can seriously injure, but snares or conibears could kill your beloved dog in no time unless you know how to react.

Trappers will argue that you should “leash your pet,” but the fact is many dog owners take their pets to public lands to let them stretch their legs and run. Most of us think nothing about the dangers of traps, especially in popular recreation areas so close to city limits. But in Helena it appears traps now something we have to beware of. So if you want to take your pet on a hike, you better keep it on a leash, carry a wire cutters and know how to free it if it should become ensnared in a trapper’s trap. Here’s a good instructional video: