Game & Fish advances power-trap ban, select trail setbacks
Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners moved Tuesday to ban large power snares as part of a suite of potential changes to trapping regulations.
Department employees will draft a large power-trap regulation for commissioners’ action at upcoming meetings. The commission also voted to ask the Legislature for authority to prohibit trapping near popular recreation areas, including heavily used trails, and to require education for would-be trappers born after Jan. 1, 2000.
“We’re thrilled,” said Wyoming Untrapped co-founder Lisa Robertson, whose group has spent six years advocating for the reforms. Before acting, the commission heard emotional testimony, including from a woman whose dog died in a power snare and from veterinarians who described gruesome wounds inflicted on pets by traps.
The commission stopped short of other proposed changes, including the mandatory reporting of not-target species caught and the daily check of traps. Today leg-hold traps and snares must be checked only once every 72-hours, according to fur-bearing trapping regulations.
Trappers are OK with voluntary reporting of non-target species, said Jim Pearce, the southeast regional director of the Wyoming State Trappers Association, which supported education and some setbacks. Mandatory reporting, however, would be used by those “who consistently oppose trapping” to continue attacks, he said.
Trapping, enshrined in the state constitution, is part of Wyoming heritage, the trapper’s group says. The Game and Fish Department agrees.
Commissioners did not address charges that trapping itself is cruel and abusive. One commenter said trapping contravenes the agency’s stated mission to conserve wildlife and serve people.
Commissioners specifically discussed the Ram power snare, a device that employs a steel spring to quickly tighten a wire noose around an animal’s neck, at the virtual Zoom meeting.
Karen Zoller told the board a “hidden” power snare killed her dog, Mac, on public land in Fremont County. “That trapper who trapped my dog, he didn’t even try to contact us,” said Zoller, who was at times near tears. “That is not a good neighbor.”
A diagram of a legal snare, as depicted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. (WGFD)
Such spring-powered nooses are “a man-killer,” Commissioner Pat Crank said. “I see no purpose for having that kind of trap out anywhere.”
The board agreed it would consider to whom and in what locations a power-trap ban would apply — including potentially on private land — once a regulation is drafted for commission action The commission will also consider prohibiting trapping at pheasant release sites during hunting season.
Crank said planting pheasants among traps amounted to an “attractive nuisance,” a legal term for drawing people — or in this case their hunting dogs — toward danger.
But the Legislature must give authority to the commission to enable it to ban all traps, including those set for predators, from recreation areas. The agency can and does impose setbacks for traps set for fur-bearing animals — badgers, beavers, bobcats, marten, mink, muskrats or weasels — but not for predators — coyotes, jackrabbits, porcupine, raccoons, red fox, skunks and stray cats.
Crank said that makes enforcement difficult as trappers who set up near trails can say, legitimately or not, “I was trying to trap coyotes.”
Commission members agreed 4-1, with one absent, to seek the setback authority, which would be exercised on a case-by-case basis. Setbacks could be imposed near “heavily used trails,” as well as trailheads, picnic areas, campgrounds and boat ramps.
Commissioner Mike Schmid opposed that motion, another seeking authority to require mandatory trapper education, and one that could prohibit trapping at pheasant-release sites during the hunting season. He joined others for unanimous agreement to ban large power traps.
The department will propose legislative authority for setbacks and trapper education, potentially for the upcoming 2021 legislative session. If the Legislature agrees, the issue would return to the department and governing commission for consideration of new regulations.
The Game and Fish Department spent 1,000 hours in an effort led by Lander Regional Wildlife Supervisor Jason Hunter to collect trapping input statewide. The September campaign engaged 186 people and was the basis of department recommendations for commission action.
Photo: Wyoming bobcat by Scott Johnson.