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Letter to The Editor: A Voice For Wyoming Wildlife

in Letter to the Editor

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By J. M. Hauptman. Laramie, Wyoming

Some favorite places around Laramie to access public lands have become, for a few, places of trauma and danger.  Since mid-November six dogs became entangled in neck snares or held in terror by foot-hold traps.  That is, six cases in an eight-week period.  If we broaden the time frame to include February of 2020, less than 12 months ago, we can add another. 

Except for one, all were on public land and at least half set illegally.  The one case on private land occurred early December 2020 and involved a foot-hold trap that lacked an identification tag, a trapping violation.  Immediately adjacent to the boundary of Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge a dog slipped under the fence onto private land where she was held by a foot-hold trap, howling in agony, while her owner ran for help.

In late December, a woman and her dog, accompanied by friends, went to ski the popular Chimney Park area on the Medicine Bow-Routt NF just west of Woods Landing.  Moments after arriving, her dog was in a foot-hold trap just steps from the trailhead.  Again, the panic and helplessness for dog and owner alike.

Closer to Laramie four equally unnerving cases, two off Vedauwoo Road along Middle Crow Creek, one on the popular state land bordering the National Forest accessed by North Buford Rd and the fourth just off Forest Service Rd 701.  These four cases occurred between the weeks of November 15 and January 18, 2021.

Broadening the time frame to February 2020, we tell of a man and his dog on BLM land in Rodger Canyon about 8 miles north of Laramie.  There a 10” Quick-Kill Conibear trap was baited with a feathered chicken.  The dog went for it, but the trap did not live up to its name, as often happens, and the 70-pound Old English Sheepdog escaped serious injury after the herculean and innovative action of his owner.

Why tell these stories and what does it all mean?  Education, advocacy, and reform.  Many people who use our public lands are unaware about trapping and its prevalence on public lands, even less know about the lax regulations. 

Yes, traps and snares can be set without limits adjacent to trails, year-round and without warning.  Yes, animals linger for days.  Yes, quick-kill traps fail at the job. Yes, game animals are trapped and ensnared, yet no poaching charges issued.  The violations go on.  The stories shared here involve beloved family pets whose owners speak out, but what about the wildlife?

A growing number of people around our state, some motivated by the death of a beloved pet, are advocating (adding a voice, adding a call) for wildlife and pets. 

Concerned citizens ask for mandatory trapper education, trap set-backs from trails, reporting and accounting for non-target species, trapper harvest reports, 24-hour check requirement, closure of high-use public lands to trapping of fur bearers and predators.  The list is long because the regulations are short.

Trapping is often promoted as a wildlife management tool, yet the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) does not conduct surveys to determine abundance of furbearers, let alone animals designated as “predatory” animals (coyote, jackrabbit, porcupine, raccoon, red fox, skunk, and stray cat).  How can the tool be used if unaware of which way is up?  Trapping and hunting of “predatory” animals continues without restriction to number, method, season and without requiring a permit. 

All resource agencies, like WGFD, are founded on the public trust doctrine.  The citizens have entrusted the care of all Wyoming wildlife, all 800 species, to the WGFD.  All citizens, all 800 species.  The exception, those whose legal status is “predator”. 

Calling for trapping rules and regulations is no more an infringement on the rights of an individual than is the prohibition of shooting from the road, using artificial light or leaving to rot in a field the edible portions of a big game animal.

Those who support trapping reform are characterized as “sentimentalist”.  Well, guilty as charged, I have feelings.  I believe if someone is going to kill an animal then it should be done quickly and effectively.  I believe that the pursuit of an animal with the intention of killing that animal ought to proceed in a manner whereby the animal is in full capacity to use her alertness, fitness, and specialized senses to detect danger and have ample room and opportunity to escape.

There are two non-profits in Wyoming working hard to share safety and awareness information.  If you want to find information on pet release workshops, recommended tools to carry while out, or if you want to learn about trapping incidents of dogs and wildlife throughout the state, then visit the websites of Wyoming Untrapped and WY Trap Free-mont County.

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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

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.”

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