Montana’s Trapping Season Suspended

A judge in Montana today placed the state’s wolverine trapping season on hold until at least January 10th as the court prepares to hear arguments that may close the trapping season permanently – always assuming that an endangered species listing doesn’t preempt the process, since a listing decision is due out in mid-January. The trapping season was due to open tomorrow. The notice is up on the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website, and also on the Western Environmental Law website. A longer article from the San Fransisco Chronicle gives further details. At posting time, articles continue to pop up from various sources around the West, so google it if you want to keep up with all the reporting.

Although I am not philosophically opposed to hunting or trapping, and although I remain skeptical of endless litigation as a means of accomplishing environmental objectives, I’m also not going to pretend that I am anything but pleased to hear this. Montana’s wolverine population has continued to expand despite a trapping season that, until a few years ago, was unlimited, so FWP’s contention that management has been based on sound science is reasonable. As the effects of climate change accelerate, however, the resilience of the population may diminish, and a pause to talk about this issue is probably a good idea. Maybe we will find that there are indeed enough wolverines in Montana that offtake of five animals per year – the current quota, although actual harvest tends to be lower – is sustainable. But let’s make sure of that, and let’s take the time to consider the extent to which extra dispersers contribute to genetic diversity in other states, and how connectivity is likely to be affected by diminishing snowpack, and what the implications are of removing reproductive females from the landscape, before continuing.

I know that trappers, for whom wolverines are a sort of holy grail, will be disappointed, and I know that environmentalists, for whom rare carnivores are a different sort of holy grail, will be excited. I’d ask environmentalists to please take this as an opportunity to focus on the science and on communicating about climate issues, and to be conscientious about avoiding negative comments about trappers and trapping in general, or about the acumen of wildlife management agencies. Wolverines are awe-inspiring animals and although some people are inevitably going to be frustrated by this decision, we’d like to see as broad-based a constituency as possible for wolverine conservation – and we definitely don’t want a dedicated group of people opposed to it because wolverines have become a symbol of environmental moral hauteur. Likewise, I hope that trappers who are interested in one day getting a wolverine will express their respect for the animal by prioritizing its continued presence on the landscape, if the science says that is what is needed.

This doesn’t mean that the Montana wolverine trapping season is over forever, and it certainly doesn’t indicate anything about a listing decision, but it does give wolverines, including F3, M57, and their (as-yet undocumented) kits a bit of breathing room, and perhaps, for kits all over the state, a few weeks head start on setting out for Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, California….or beyond.

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