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Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer

in News/wildlife
Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer
1306

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Nothing quite embodies the American frontier like the image of a fur-clad trapper hauling his year’s take down a mountain trail on the back of his trusty mule.

After the West was won, however, trapping fell by the wayside, despite being a useful method of wildlife management.

Trapping is a great tool we use as an agency to remove damage animals or prevent urban wildlife conflicts or even conflicts between humans and wildlife,” said Jason Sherwood, a Wyoming Game and Fish senior game warden. “The wildlife of Wyoming belong to all the people in the state, and we’re the caretaker of that. We manage the wildlife as a trust.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Wyoming Untrapped is a non-profit organization based in Jackson, and it operates on the idea trapping practices in Wyoming should be reformed.

“There are non-lethal ways to mitigate beaver damage,” said Aska Langman, the executive director for Wyoming Untrapped. “Trapping is a very short-minded solution to destructive wildlife behavior.”

For Jim Pearce, the Wyoming State Trappers Association southeastern director, trapping provides a connection with the outdoors.

“It gets me out,” Pearce said. “I’m always learning when I’m out there, and isn’t that the point of life? I love to watch the wildlife. You always see something new.”

The L.A. Times reported California trappers are calling it quits, in part because of social pressure and regulation changes.

But in Wyoming, Pearce said the biggest threat to the sport is disinterested youth.

“Our numbers have decreased substantially,” he explained. “We just don’t have the young people coming around that we used to.”

A cruel trade?

The primary argument against trapping for groups like Wyoming Untrapped is a perception of cruelty.

“One of the focuses of our reform is changing the regulation of checking traps every 72 hours to (checking) every 24 hours,” Langman said. “There’s generally less suffering if they check them more often.”

Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado require trappers to check traps every 24 hours, according to The Humane Society of the United States.  If the goal of trapping is to harvest animals, Langman said she believes there are more ethical methods.

“We hunt in my family, to fill the freezer and whatnot,” she said. “But we don’t aim to maim an elk and let it go wander off and never claim the carcass. With trapping, we’d just like it to be a little bit more of a humane situation.”

Founded in 2014, Wyoming Untrapped operates primarily on private donations. 

“We’re a small, grassroots operation — I’m the only paid employee,” Langman said. “We started out mainly because of people’s dogs getting caught in traps.” 

The organization’s website states at least 52 dogs have been caught in traps in Wyoming since 2000, or approximately 3 dogs a year. Langman said those numbers are not complete, however.

“There’s no mandatory reporting for trapping,” she said. “That’s another thing the organization would like reformed, mandatory reporting for trapping numbers.”

Sherwood said the Game and Fish Department does enforce reporting requirements for non-target animals caught in traps, but pets are outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

For now, Langman said Wyoming Untrapped would like to see traps checked more frequently, the adoption of stricter reporting requirements and mandatory signage for trapping areas.

“Putting up signs around areas where traps might be could really help reduce the public safety risk,” she said. “I think there will always be trapping in Wyoming — I mean it’s a constitutional right. So short of changing the constitution of Wyoming, I don’t think it’s going away.” 

Wildlife management

A lifelong trapper, Pearce said he’s dealt with anti-trapping sentiments for decades.

“Cruelty is their biggest platform,” he said. “That’s what they like to perpetuate.”

Wildlife agencies and the National Trappers Association listened. In 1996, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies began a $40 million research project to develop best management practices for regulated trapping.

Created by a team of wildlife biologists, the practices outline trapping techniques, preferred styles of traps and trap placement. 

“Best management practices can be both recommendations and built into regulations,” Sherwood said. “A lot of trappers understand that if they don’t use these practices, then something horrible could happen, which will likely attract media attention and be detrimental to the trade.”

With the practices in place, Pearce said trappers try to work in harmony with the non-trapping public, which shares the same public spaces.

Pearce said he regularly hosts seminars about how to remove pets from traps when accidents occur. He also works as a liaison for the Game and Fish Department, advising the agency and its partners about using both live and lethal trapping to mitigate wildlife damage.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you do it, Jim?’” Pearce said. “Half the people I talk to have never seen a beaver. They don’t have an inkling the amount of damage a colony can wreak on an irrigation system.”

Years ago, Pearce would visit elementary schools and give wildlife biology seminars to children.

“Now, the schools won’t even talk to you,” he said.

Reading Jack London and other outdoor adventure stories as a kid inspired Pearce to become a trapper, but in today’s society, he said he doesn’t see anything driving young people toward the outdoors.

“Every year, our numbers dwindle,” he said. “The convention/rendezvous circuit has done a bit to rejuvenate our ranks, but I don’t think it will be enough.”

Without trappers, Sherwood said wildlife management agencies could be hard pressed to find financially viable replacement methods.

“The regulated capture and removal of those animals, which are often members of the rodent family or similarly reproduce very rapidly, helps us maintain those populations without major peaks and swings,” he explained. “With trapping, it’s more of a subtle change — ebb and flow of populations — preventing the massive buildups and die offs that can be detrimental to an area’s ecology.”

Range Writing: Colorado Wolf Project’s Deceit

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Writing: Colorado Wolf Project’s Deceit
1260

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project (RMWP) has gone into full-steamroller mode in pushing for wolf reintroduction to western Colorado, recently publishing “Nine myths about gray wolves you shouldn’t believe.”[1]

But readers should beware that RMWP isn’t telling the whole truth when it responds to these supposed myths. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only tackle a few points, but rest assured that RMWP’s response to each of its nine points is oversimplified and misleading.

RMWP: “Gray wolves are extremely wary of humans. They are shy and retiring around people and will avoid them at all costs.”

Reality: Wolves that have no reason to fear humans are not shy and wary. While wolves were under federal protection, our family had wolves in our yard in rural western Wyoming, hundreds of miles south of Yellowstone National Park. That’s not odd for residents living in areas impacted by wolves: wolves created problems by hanging out in residential areas in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Ketchum, Idaho. Even the International Wolf Center acknowledges that human-habituated wolves are a problem.[2]

National park and state wildlife officials have killed wolves because of their bold or aggressive behavior towards humans in the Northern Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes states, as well as in Canada. And although rare, wolves are known to have killed humans in North America and in other countries (with the most recent reported attacks occurring last month in Tajikistan[3]). There are numerous other confirmed attacks on humans in which people were injured, but not killed, throughout the range of wolves.[4]

RMWP: “The truth is, wolf depredations on livestock still accounts for less than 0.1% of all livestock losses in the Northern Rockies, which includes Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Nearly all cattle, 99.9%, die from causes other than wolves. It’s simply a myth to believe that ranchers have much to worry about.”

Reality: {Excuse me while my head explodes.} First, not all livestock in the Northern Rockies graze on range inhabited by wolves, and it is well known that some ranch operations are impacted more than others. And confirmed livestock losses are only a small portion of the true numbers of livestock killed or injured by wolves.[5]

Since I live in the predator zone of Wyoming where wolves can legally be killed at any time, I do not receive reimbursement for livestock killed by wolves, so there is no incentive for me to have depredations confirmed or to report those losses. 

Lastly, the indirect but substantial economic cost of wolves is never discussed by wolf advocates,[6]but I know that after our last surplus-kill event (involving more than a dozen dead sheep and three injured livestock guardian dogs), the weights on our market lambs decreased by 10 pounds per lamb. That was an added economic blow, in addition to the direct losses, vet fees, added labor, and overall stress to both the flock and our family.

RMWP: “Many Coloradans don’t know that there are no established gray wolf packs in Colorado. Indeed, in Colorado, even wide-ranging lone wolves from the Northern Rockies are exceedingly rare.”

Reality: This is the oft-repeated refrain used to justify the release of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, even though a hunter shot and killed a wolf in Wyoming while the reintroduction program was being debated.[7]Colorado may not have any “established gray wolf packs” but every now and then, a wolf gets killed or photographed to prove their presence in the state.[8]Recognizing that dispersing wolves are how wolf populations expand into new areas, Colorado wildlife officials issue public reminders that “it is increasingly likely that the growing wolf populations and range in nearby states will eventually expand across state lines.”[9]

Myth: Gray wolves kill for sport.

RMWP: “Nope, not true. Wild carnivores do not kill for fun; they kill to survive, which typically is very hard for gray wolves. It’s worth remembering that only humans kill for fun.”

Reality: While we can’t tell for sure if the killing is “fun” or “for sport,” wolves – like other wild carnivores (think weasel in a hen house) – do surplus kill. For example, wolves killed 120 rams in one event in Montana,[10]more than 150 sheep in Idaho,[11]and 19 elk in one night in Wyoming.[12]Although some claim that surplus killing is rare, our family has experienced wolves inflicting surplus kills on our domestic sheep flocks twice in the last eight years, so it doesn’t seem all that rare.

RMWP: “Colorado has more public lands and a bigger prey population for gray wolves than anywhere in the world. There is no doubt that Colorado can not only accommodate gray wolves, but we can allow them to peacefully coexist with hunters and ranchers.”

Reality: Peaceful coexistence? That is a fantasy. We coexist, but it is not peaceful, and coexistence is not bloodless (see surplus killing section above). By the very nature of the predator-and-prey relationship, that will never change.


[1]https://blog.rockymountainwolfproject.org/blog/9-myths-about-the-gray-wolf-you-shouldnt-believe

[2]https://www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Too-Close-for-Comfort.pdf

[3]https://www.rferl.org/a/wolves-kill-two-women-in-tajikistan-after-villagers-hunting-rifles-confiscated/29808983.html

[4]https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/wolfrecovery/27/

[5]https://www.jstor.org/stable/40801500?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[6]https://www.beefmagazine.com/pasture-range/wolves-economic-bite-cattle-goes-way-beyond-predation

[7]https://www.amazon.com/Yellowstone-Wolves-Chronicle-Animal-Politics/product-reviews/093992370X

[8]https://www.outtherecolorado.com/are-there-wolves-in-colorado/

[9]https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/News-Release-Details.aspx?NewsID=5845

[10]https://missoulian.com/news/local/wolves-kill-sheep-at-ranch-near-dillon/article_5ff01772-938f-11de-9aca-001cc4c03286.html

[11]https://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/newshound/2013/08/two-wolves-kill-176-sheep-1-night-near-idaho-falls

[12]https://www.idahostatejournal.com/wolves-kill-elk-but-didn-t-eat-any-meat/article_ee494313-5c20-5353-8452-86477ad7c777.html

In Brief: Gordon seeks comments on sage-grouse plan

in News/wildlife
Governor Gordon Seeks comment on Sage Grouse plan
1204

By Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon is seeking public input as he begins his first review of the state’s sage-grouse protection rules.

Gordon, in a news release, said he would accept public comments until May 1 on the sage-grouse executive order first put in place by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal in 2007.

“Wyoming has been leading in sage-grouse management for more than a decade, and one of our hallmarks has been stability and predictability for all involved,” Gordon said. “I intend to use the public’s feedback to inform my review and help identify areas where we can improve upon what is already working while keeping a steady course.”

The executive order lays out procedures to minimize disturbances of areas designated as “core population areas” for the sage-grouse and encourage development outside of those areas.

The order was first signed by Freudenthal and was amended by former Gov. Matt Mead in 2015.

Gordon said he hopes to improve on existing elements of the state’s approach to sage-grouse conservation without changing the primary elements of existing rules.

“Sage-grouse are an important species to Wyoming,” he said. “The state has a significant interest in seeing that the bird remains protected while allowing for responsible development.”

The executive orders and associated documents can be seen by visiting https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Habitat/Sage-Grouse-Management/Sage-Grouse-Executive-Order

Comments may be submitted to wgfd.hpp@wyo.gov.

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