At the urging of both trappers and wolf advocates, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks commission has killed a proposal to allow FWP to put its wolf-trapping course online.
FWP Big Game chief John Vore asked the commissioners to approve the online course Thursday mainly to save FWP time and effort.
Since the course was started in 2012, the number of people attending the course has dropped off from more than 2,300 to fewer than 300 last year, Vore said. Trappers have to take the course only once, so it was expected that fewer would attend after the initial surge.
“In Region 4, the most recent course that they offered, less than six people came. It gets to be a point of diminishing returns as far as offering an opportunity that people don’t take advantage of,” Vore said.
The online course would be designed with several sections and people would be required to pass a quiz on a section before they could move on to the next one. FWP already offers a similar online quiz for bear hunters, Vore said.
It would allow people in remote areas to take the course without having to travel to attend a class, Vore said.
Vore said FWP didn’t alert the public to the proposal because the managers assumed it had the authority to offer wolf trapping as an online course. But FWP was asking for a clarification from the commission after some members of the public were alerted and protested the change, Vore said.
Commissioner Richard Stuker liked the quiz aspect, but when he learned that those attending regular courses hadn’t had to pass a test, he proposed an amendment that all trappers should pass a knowledge test, regardless of which type of class they attended.
During public comment, wolf advocates, some of whom logged the initial protest, argued against the online class.
Marc Cooke of Wolves of the Wild Rockies said he attended one of the first trapping classes and learned a great deal from being able to be hands-on with the traps. He pointed out that Idaho continues to have a hands-on course.
“I would encourage the agency – even though numbers are declining – to have a hands-on part to this class. As a trapper, you’d need to make a commitment to go to one of these classes. Sure, there is some distance involved, but there is with trapping anyways,” Cooke said. “If there was a hands-on demonstration, it would be better in the long run because it would knock down the incidentals, the animals that shouldn’t be caught in the first place.”
Cheryl Kindschy, a Wolf Watcher and retired teacher, said most people learn best hands-on.
Tim McKendrick of the Montana Trappers Association said FWP offers a good trapping course but the MTA doesn’t support an online course but didn’t elaborate as to why.
Former FWP commissioner Bob Ream said there are a very limited number of experienced trappers so perhaps FWP, with the help of the MTA, could create a mentor program where new trappers follow experienced trappers around for a few days.
All the commissioners were all uneasy with the thought of trappers learning via a computer although Chairman Dan Vermillion pointed out that it’s the future of education. He proposed putting the proposal out for tentative consideration.
Other commissioners said they’d support putting out it for public comment, but it wasn’t likely that they’d support it once it came back.
Commissioner Matthew Tourtlotte called for a final vote.
“I don’t think it’s going to pass,” Tourtlotte said. “I would encourage the department to come back to us in December with a new proposal that we can put out with more details. What can be offered in the online course as compared to a hands-on course and can we even replicate any substantive part of that. We don’t even have the information to put out as a tentative.”
All five commissioners voted against the online course and may do so again when the department brings forward the next proposal.
“I struggle philosophically with the notion learning about firearms or bow hunting online. It reminds me of going into a Cabela’s and seeing those video games and kids thinking they’re learning about hunting with dad standing there and it has nothing to do with anything. There’s no personal involvement, they’re not involved with the animals, they have no idea what they’re doing.,” said commissioner Richard Kerstein.