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Anti-trap initiative qualifies for Montana’s November ballot

By Bobby Caina Calvan Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. – An initiative seeking to ban traps and snares on public lands has qualified for the November ballot.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch certified Initiative 177 on Thursday after it surpassed the 24,175 signatures required. In all, backers say they submitted nearly 30,000 signatures.

If approved by voters, the initiative would prohibit commercial and recreational use of traps and snares on public lands. Previous efforts in recent years failed to collect enough signatures.

“It was an issue people didn’t know too much about,” said Connie Poten, who helped lead the effort to place the initiative on the ballot. “We’ve had six years to educate Montanans statewide.”

Backers of the measure must now persuade even more Montanans to get behind the effort to restrict the use of traps and snares. Supporters of the ban say the devices are cruel to animals and pose a safety risk to people and livestock.

“That’s their point of view. We don’t see it as inhumane,” said Richard Friedrich, the conservation director of the National Trappers Association. Friedrich, who is based in Missouri, said his group will help fight the ballot measure in Montana to allow members to continue practicing their livelihood.

The state’s trappers generated $2.7 million in income from raw fur in 2012, the latest year the association conducted a survey, according to the Montana Trappers Association.

“The initiative itself would be very damaging to Montana families. This one impacts ranchers, agricultural community, sportsman and people trying to make a living and support their families,” said Toby Walrath, the president of the state trappers association.

Backers acknowledge the challenges they face at the ballot box, saying they will have to work hard to convince voters in a state with a strong tradition of hunting and trapping.

“Now the hard part begins. We know we have a steep hill to climb” Poten said. “It’s time we start treating animals with respect.”

I-177 is the second initiative to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot, with several other measures still undergoing verification of signatures by county elections officials.

In May, a victims’ rights initiative known as Marsy’s Law was the first to make it on the ballot. The measure, known as CI-116, would expand rights to crime victims and their families.

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