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Commission Squashes Trapping Reform

The advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped petitioned the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to consider closing Cache Creek (pictured), Game Creek, Snow King, Teton Pass, and Darby and Teton canyons to furbearer trapping. On Tuesday, the commission unanimously decided against making any changes. 

For the second time in five years, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has dismissed efforts to abolish furbearer trapping around one of Jackson Hole’s most heavily used trailheads.

Cache Creek’s web of trails is a hotbed of outdoor recreation. The local advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped spearheaded a push for a trap-free zone in 2015, when the regional Game and Fish office endorsed the plan. But the commission shot it down.

History repeated itself Tuesday, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission declined to revisit its trapping regulations ahead of schedule and consider petitions for trap-free zones at Cache and heavily used areas in Fremont County.

Commissioner Patrick Crank, of Cheyenne, said it was inappropriate to open up the regulations because he had not been presented with diverse views.

“Right now we have trappers and folks who want to change the regulations on trapping,” Crank told fellow commissioners at an in-person meeting. “Not much from the general public. I don’t see much comment from landowners, I didn’t see comments from weed and pest districts.”

La Barge Commissioner Mike Schmid remarked that he would only consider a proposal if both trappers and nontrappers were each giving something up. He cautioned the Game and Fish Department that any revisions considered ought not to be one-sided.

Leading the trapping-reform charge in Fremont County is Pavillion resident Karen Zoller, whose dog, Mac, was killed in a bobcat set while on a run through Bureau of Land Management property in January. Afterward, she established a group called WY Trap Free-Mont County, and petitioned the state to close down eight popular areas in her region to trapping, like the Sinks Canyon trail system and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area.

“To put our request into perspective, there are 3.5 million acres of public land in Fremont County,” Diana Holcomb said via Zoom at the commission meeting. “WY Trap Free-Mont County is requesting 32,500 acres be designated as trap-free. This represents less than 1% of the county’s public land.”

Wyoming Untrapped’s proposed closed area in Cache Creek extends east to west approximately from Noker Mine Draw to the face of Snow King. North to south, the zone reaches from the Putt-Putt trail to the Skyline ridge. The group also petitioned for closures around Game Creek, west Snow King and Josie’s Ridge, Teton Pass, and Darby and Teton canyons.

The pursuit of furbearer species like pine marten in the highly-used Cache area is limited, but at least on one occasion recently a Jackson resident has set up a trapline near the trailhead because it’s legal. That decision backfired, when a game warden found the trap line and discovered that many of the sets weren’t properly tagged or being checked frequently enough.

Fur trapping is a historically significant commercial activity that led to the exploration of much of the West during the 19th century. Jim Bridger, John Colter, Jedediah Smith and William Sublette are pioneers who partook in fur trapping and trading.

Today, however, the activity is practiced by relatively few, with just 2,500 or so licensed trappers in Wyoming. Occasionally, trapping clashes with other uses of the landscape, such as people recreating with their pets. In 2014, a pair of Saint Bernard dogs died near Casper after being caught in snares, the same device that killed an Afton woman’s Pyrenees in 2018. Zoller’s dog in January also succumbed to a snare.

Although the commission hasn’t had the appetite to address conflict in high-use recreation areas, the agency it oversees has taken steps to ensure that bird hunters’ dogs aren’t caught in traps in places. Several Goshen County wildlife management areas popular for pheasant hunting, for example, are closed to trapping through the fall.

Wyoming Untrapped founder Lisa Robertson said she’s undeterred by the commission’s decision and will continue to pursue reform. Trapping seasons and the petitions may come up again at the commission’s July 15-17 meeting in Rawlins, she learned Wednesday.

“We’ll show up, as we always do,” Robertson said. “We’ll give every effort to find solutions.”

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