Trapping Reform in Wyoming

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Wildlife Remain Ensnared In Backward Thinking That Defies Reason

A veteran Canadian wildlife manager condemns snaring on both sides of the border. Dwight Rodtka says practice poses grave threats to grizzlies and human pets
By Yellowstonian | June 11, 2024


A grizzly bear and gray wolf stroll looking for carcasses in Yellowstone. Wildlife experts say that grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and other species are needlessly being placed in peril because of state laws in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho allowing snares. Pets are likely to die too, they say. Photo courtesy Doug Smith/NPS

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes it takes the perspective of a neighbor to help bring clarity to what’s happening in our own wild backyard. Dwight Rodtka worked for years as a wildlife official in the Canadian province of Alberta. North of the US border, he spent decades dealing with many of the same species present in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

In a 2016 story in a Canadian newspaper, the man who once engaged in aggressive wolf control said his province was waging an open war on the animals. If Americans believe that attitudes toward wildlife carnivores are backward in the North Rockies of the US Rodtka said still-prevailing rural thinking in Canada is more like the slaughter of those animals that happened in the US West beginning in the late 19th century and continuing until grizzlies were restored and wolves were spared from total annihilation south of the US-Canada border because of federal protection.

While some view Canada as a country of wildness worthy of emulation, Rodtka says Canadian conservationists are today worried about losing species in the borderlands and northward into the Canadian Rockies, particularly on private lands and public lands managed by provincial governments.

Rodtka recently penned an essay titled “The Truth about Snares” which we are re-publishing, below. Worldwide, snares are treated as a serious scourges to wildlife, the same way land mines are viewed as horrific, lingering implements of war. Lethal, indiscriminate in who they harm, looming invisibly and sometimes abandoned in their environments, they’re condemned as anachronisms that have no place in modern times.

Snares don’t blow up their victims or put ultra-lethal cyanide in their mouths; they’re generally made of a loop of wire that animals unknowingly walk into head first and then suffer strangulation as resistance and the flight response only makes the lethal coil become tighter. As Rodtka, who set many snares says, deaths are not often swift, but painful and agonizing.

In many counties, snares are used to kill animals for food or for their furs. Each year globally, millions upon millions of animals die from them, many non-target species and some domestic pets. Snares are condemned as tools of destruction that represent a grave threat to wildlife conservation. Read this post from World Wildlife Fund about the threat they pose of tigers in southeast Asia.

Closer to home, wildlife experts say that in recent years, with states not only approving use of snares, but legally greenlighting their deployment to take wolves, they represent an ongoing lethal hazard to non-target animals, including grizzly bears, wolverines, and Canada lynx, all federally protected. Sometimes they are set by trappers near hiking trails frequented by people and their dogs.

Read the testimony of Dr. Christopher Servheen who appeared before a hearing before the US House of Representatives and called attention to the fact that the Montana legislature voted to allow the use of snares of catch wolves and coyotes in known occupied grizzly bear habitat. For 35 years Servheen led national grizzly bear recovery efforts for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and at one time supported removing bears from federal protection. In recent years, following retirement, he reversed course and now is opposed to delisting, in part because of what he calls Draconian trapping, bear baiting and hounding practices in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Last summer, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that if a person loses a domestic dog or cat to a trap or snare, responsibility resides with the pet owner, not the trapper who set the snare. That fueled outrage from those seeking trapping reform. The issue flared again earlier last winter with a different trapping device when Becky Barber, who lives in Afton, Wyoming in the southern tier of Greater Yellowstone experienced the loss of her English bull terrier, Jester. The dog was killed in #330 conibear set out in the Swift Creek drainage and Jester wandered into the body-gripping trap while Barber took a few of her dogs out on a hike.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department issued a citation in connection with an incident in Swift Creek Drainage east of Afton, Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokeswoman Breanna Ball told Cowboy State Daily. “This is an unfortunate situation and our sympathies are with the dog owner. The incident is currently under investigation. There was a violation of trapping regulations and the trapper was cited for setting a Conibear trap too large to be set out of the water on public land.”

Regarding snares, Rodtka told Yellowstonian that despite claims to the contrary in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, it is easy for adult grizzlies and cubs to wanted into a snare and die, especially when trappers use bait to lure animals to a set. “A grizzly can easily wander into a set for wolves. One thing I’ve noticed is that they [bears] usually die much quicker than wolves because they’re carotid system is exposed much more,” Rodtka said. “The big thing for me is that snare are so horrendously cruel. Jesus Christ, all you need to do is go online. There isn’t a thing you can do to mandate consistently of behavior. The only thing that would help is mandating that traps be checked very 24 hours but that’s often violated and even when a trapper is complying there’s a high probability a snare will kill or seriously injure the animal caught in it.”

Grizzlies are currently protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and killing a bear is punishable by a steep fine, potential time in jail or both. Below is Rodtka’s essay:

What a typical snare looks like. Photo courtesy World Wildlife Fund

The Truth About Snares 

by Dwight Rodtka

Snares are archaic and torturous devices that should have been banned years ago. I know plenty about snares. I’ve seen firsthand what they do and spent almost 40 years working as a predator control specialist for the government agency Agriculture Alberta. I can also relate to the what my American counterpart, Carter Niemeyer, said in a recent story in Yellowstonian.

Snaring animals and birds has been around for as long as humans has been killing them for food, clothing, profit or sport. Interestingly, the use of snares is still widespread today and snare design—after thousands of years of use—has not progressed significantly.

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