Coyote Trapping, Snaring Enters Grizzly Management Debate

Montana Stockgrowers Association seeks to intervene in lawsuit to keep coyote trapping and snaring legal

By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press
A grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem seen on Sept. 12, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Montana Stockgrowers Association wants to intervene in a lawsuit that aims to reduce the unintentional trapping and snaring of federally protected grizzly bears. 

The Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force and WildEarth Guardians sued the state of Montana and the chair of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in federal court last year to limit trapping and snaring of grizzlies during the months grizzlies are likely to be out of their dens. They argued that traps and snares set for animals have injured, and even killed, grizzly bears on more than 20 occasions since 1988. Grizzly bears are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency is weighing a petition to delist Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Yellowstone grizzlies.

The groups filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to reduce the 2023-2024 wolf trapping and snaring seasons established by the governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Commission. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy granted the preliminary injunction in November, effectively halving the 2023-2024 wolf-trapping season in occupied grizzly habitat.

MSGA said it filed a motion to intervene this week after the plaintiffs amended their original lawsuit to include restrictions on the trapping and snaring of coyotes. 

MSGA, which coordinated its efforts with the Montana Wool Growers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, argues that restricting coyote trapping and snaring would curb ranchers’ ability to control a particularly lethal predator for cattle and sheep.

“MSGA believes this lawsuit will have implications for livestock producers in Montana and potentially states across the West where grizzly bears exist,” MSGA Executive Vice President Raylee Honeycutt said in a press release. “Coyote trapping and snaring are proven methods for controlling one of the most damaging livestock predators. MSGA believes protecting this management tool is crucial for Montana’s ranching industry to continue to protect their livestock.”

In a declaration filed with the court, Honeycutt said that neck snares and foothold traps are the most prevalent tools used to limit depredation by coyotes, that snares are sized specifically to target coyotes, and that MSGA members use coyote depredation traps that are too small to catch or hold grizzly bears. Honeycutt also said that her organization has never received a report of one of its members capturing a grizzly bear in a snare set for a coyote.

In a request for summary judgment the plaintiffs filed on April 15, the conservation groups argued that traps and snares are by design “indiscriminate” in that they can kill the animals intended as well as those that are not intended. While coyote traps may be smaller, they are “often as powerful as wolf traps and can cause the same or similar injuries to grizzly bears as wolf traps,” the plaintiffs argued. The plaintiffs wrote that there have been six verified instances of grizzly bears caught in coyote traps since 2010, and such incidental captures likely result in bears losing their toes or feet.

Under current regulations, coyote trapping is allowed year-round in Montana.

Other groups that have requested, successfully, to intervene in the lawsuit include the Montana Trappers Association and the Outdoor Heritage Coalition, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) that lobbies on behalf of its members’ interests, such as protecting “consumptive use of our natural resources.”

An oral argument for the lawsuit is scheduled for June 25 in Missoula. 

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.