Even though it's illegal to trap mountain lions in Montana, 48 lions have been captured in traps set for other animals over the past two years. Of those lions captured, 26 died and at least six suffered some form of damage to their paws but were released along with the non-injured lions.
One of the more egregious examples was presented recently by Cal Ruark, a former president of the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association and now a mountain lion advocate. A few weeks back a friend of Ruark's brought him a mountain lion paw, still caught in a steel-jawed wolf trap.
According to his friend there were deep claw marks in a tree near the location of the trap.
"He told me the trees were all tore to hell," Ruark said. "The drag on the trap was hung up on a tree and there were claw marks on the trees where the lion had stood up on its back legs and tried to climb."
Ruark is sure the mountain lion didn't survive.
"It might have been able to get along for a little while, but it's dead now," he said. "It can't hunt on three legs."
To make matters worse for Montana's mountain lions, House Bill 212 by Representative Kirk Wagoner just passed the Governor's desk unsigned. HB 212 changes the Montana Constitution to protect the right to trap.
Governor Steve Bullock's reason for not signing HB 212 was explained by Paul Fielder, a regional chapter director of the Montana Trappers Association.
"This bill was supported by Montana sportsmen and Montana ranchers and Montana farmers and Montana guides and outfitters," said Fielder. "The governor had to choose whether he wanted to upset those groups or not, so he left it alone."
Photo of a lion paw in a wolf trap, from the Missoulian.