Trapping laws on public lands ineffective
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 National Forest 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 Road, and the fourth just off Forest Service Road 701. These four cases occurred between the weeks of Nov. 15, 2020 and Jan 18.
Broadening the time frame to February 2020, we tell of a man and his dog on BLM land in Rodger Canyon about eight 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. 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 “sentimentalists.” 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.
Jacqueline Hauptman is an advocate for amending trapping laws. She is a 20 year resident of Wyoming who holds degrees in animal science and biology. She enjoys observing and studying wildlife and habitats. She can occasionally be seen on Sand Creek road picking up trash while birding.
Map courtesy of Suzanne, Luhr – Laramie