Trapping Reform in Wyoming

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A Personal Narrative

Daily Trap Checks Save Lives

Since Wyoming Untrapped was founded, we have been privileged to make new friends who have mentored us through a learning curve that started from the ground up. We continue to learn more each day, and we hope our statements are always the truth as we understand it. We pride ourselves on the trust we have built on this dedicated journey, and we have nourished friendships and partnerships that we can trust as well. The letter below was written to Idaho Fish and Game Commission, Feb 7, 2019.  Experience counts!

…As a man living the life of a trapper – now, I find solace in watching animal families, beaver, coyotes, wolves, you name it, go about their lives undisturbed by humans.

Scientific studies show that 24-hour trap checks help reduce the severity of injuries to captured animals.

Dear Honorable Committee Members:

I have been a hunter and trapper for over 60 years. I am a former resident of the state of Montana for 26 years. I am a wildlife biologist with bachelors and masters degrees in wildlife management from Iowa State University. I have been employed by the US Department of Agriculture/Wildlife Services for 26 years and retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service after 33 years of combined federal service.

My education and career have involved the live-trapping, foot snaring and foothold trapping of many wild carnivores including red foxes, coyotes, wolves, black bear, and grizzly bear. I have been a long line fur trapper in Montana in my early years in the state starting back in 1973. My entire career has been at the “field level” with hands-on experience capturing wild animals including golden eagles. I have trapped hundreds, if not thousands of most wild carnivores with emphasis on larger predators. I have skinned and handled thousands of fur pelts from trapline to fur shed.

I want to go on record that I support a 24-hour trap check. During my trapping career which began in the Midwest (Iowa) I have always checked my traps daily. I didn’t want my “catch” to be stolen and I have always been an animal lover that tries to minimize unnecessary suffering for animals caught in my traps. Traps catch target species but sometimes non-target pets or unwanted/unintended species. Daily trap check ensures a greater opportunity to cause irreparable injuries to any bird or animal.

Since the mid-1980s I have been involved in gray wolf recovery. Throughout my career, I have captured over 300 gray wolves for radio-collaring related to predator control activities and research in the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. I remain a private contractor still trapping wolves upon request and working as a mentor, trainer, and advisor to states, tribes, and academia. I have never had a wolf die as a result of using foothold traps because I checked traps every single day at dawn or arranged to have other biologists do it for me. I know that all of the wolves survived because they walked away with radio collars.

A daily trap check is essential. Any bird or animal held overnight in a trap has an excellent chance for survival. Trapping in subzero temperatures or extreme heat reduces the chances for survival but an early trap check can certainly help. Even if the animal is to be killed for its pelt or in a control operation a daily trap check is the most humane way to treat wild animals. Going beyond a daily trap check for additional days those animals stress, dehydrate, freeze their extremities and suffer a miserable existence. Daily trap checks reduce the cruelty of trapping. To let animals languish for days is cruelty – no other way to define it. I ask each of you – would you want your pet to be treated that way? Seriously, why should wild animals be treated with any less respect than one of your pets in the same situation? And, many pets are unintended victims of traps.

I have heard all of the arguments to justify not having to check traps daily. People have jobs, want to save on mileage, and the miles are too great in the West to get back to check traps often. I know the real reasons not to check traps often – many trappers are going for numbers. No better way to boast than catching multiple predators daily. Other longline trappers are in the “production” mode and catching hundreds of predators in a season – mainly accomplished by putting out hundreds of traps and getting to them when they can – weather permitting. And, I realize that Western states want predator numbers reduced and need every trapper the states can license to get the job done.

Nonetheless, as a society, I hope we can move forward and consider the inhumanness of letting animals (including non-target birds, pets and possibly threatened or endangered species) languish in foothold traps for days at a time. Would you do that to your pet?

Lastly, I suggest you accompany trappers on a trap check after 48 hours, 72 hours or longer. Yes, the animal may be curled up “sleeping” but that doesn’t describe the physiological suffering that animal has endured. A daily trap check ensures that the intended or unintended bird or animal in a trap may be humanely killed or released with minimal injuries other than frostbite in the winter.

I have trapped hundreds of animals for control or research and overnight they are generally in excellent condition – well enough to be released with a radio collar and continue to function normally. After more than one day all bets are off – even with all of the improvements in the manufacture of foothold traps with laminated jaws, chain swivels, chain attachments and all of the rest. A daily trap check normally translated into an animal spending less than12 hours in a trap since most are nocturnal.

Thank you for receiving my professional opinion on daily trap check and I hope that it helps you make thoughtful decisions as you address this issue.

Fox image in Jackson, WY.
Courtesy of local photographer Tim Tennyson

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