Anja Heister, executive director of Footloose Montana, on March 22 posted a series of photos gleaned from an online trapping forum called Trapperman.com on her personal and Footloose Montana Facebook sites.
Heister said she opened Footloose Montana’s email inbox on Monday and found what she believed to be a death threat directed at family members of the organization:
“I would like to donate (sic) a gun to your childs (sic) head to make sure you can watch it die slowly so I can have my picture taken with it’s (sic) bleeding dying screaming for mercy body. YOU WILL BE THE TARGET NEXT BITCHES!” the message read.
The photos show trapper Josh Bransford, a fire management officer for the Nez Perce National Forest, kneeling and smiling for the camera as a wolf he caught in a foot-hold trap stands behind him in a ring of blood-soaked snow. Another photo shows a close-up of the wolf’s paw caught in the trap. A third photo shows the trapper posing with his catch.
Heister said Footloose Montana, which is actively campaigning to ban trapping in Montana, has received plenty of hostile emails and phone calls since 2007 but never anything that rose to this level.
"It has a cumulative effect on your psyche," Heister said. "I’m not easily scared, but when I read this I got really concerned."
Heister said she reported the threatening email to local and federal law enforcement officials. Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welch confirmed the department received the report of the malicious email and that it was assigned to an investigator, but he declined to comment further.
In an online blog on Earth Island Journal’s website, writer James William Gibson recounted what Bransford — who goes by the handle "Pinching" — wrote about the photos. Bransford’s post has since been removed.
“I got a call on Sunday morning from a FS (Forest Service) cop that I know. You got one up here,” the post said, and then continued, “there was a crowd forming. Several guys had stopped and taken a shot at him already,” the post read, according to Gibson.
According to Bransford the wolf was a 100-pound male with "no rub spots" making an "good wall hanger.”
Bransford did not return calls or emails seeking comment Thursday.
As of late Thursday the photos posted on Footloose Montana’s Facebook page had received nearly 900 comments. Online commenters on both the Earth Island Journal and the Footloose Montana Facebook page expressed outrage over the photos. Many viewers were angry Bransford posed for a portrait with the wounded wolf before killing it.
Dave Linkhart, spokesman for the National Trappers Association, said there’s nothing wrong with a trapper posing with his catch before killing the animal.
"You pose with a successful catch just like you do with a successful hunt," Linkhart said. "People make the problem of attributing human feelings and emotions to these animals."
Linkhart claimed trapped animals don’t suffer, so taking the time to shoot a photograph does not cross ethical boundaries.
Marc Bekoff is a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and fellow of the Animal Behavior Society who has studied the social behavior of wolves and coyotes, among other animals.
"That wolf was suffering immeasurably. Not only physically by having his foot locked in a trap, but also being shot at," said Bekoff, the author of several books on animal psychology and emotion. "This was not hunting. This was having an animal having its foot smashed in trap and then shooting at it with bullets. This wolf was tortured."
Linkhart said if the wolf was shot at, that isn’t the trapper’s fault.
"Somebody else came up there and shot that animal first. That is illegal. What the trapper has done here is not," Linkhart said. "The problem was not the trap. It was the illegal activity of the hunters who shot at that wolf."
Lowdown EXTRA: This is video “Pinching” posted to Trapperman.com showing a bobcat stepping into a foot-hold trap: