Pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson’s interpretation of a Wyoming trappers’ rendezvous, recalling a significant period in the state’s history. Jackson probably painted the watercolor in the 1930s when he was in his 90s. (Scotts Bluff National Monument)

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. 

“Man-killer”

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.

Constitutional guarantee

In 2012 Wyoming voters approved a constitutional amendment recognizing and preserving citizens’ opportunity to fish, hunt and trap wildlife, subject to law. Eighty-five percent of those casting ballots in the election favored the amendment.

Nevertheless, the trappers’ association argues, “it is a fact trapping will die anyway as a result of bleeding from a thousand cuts.”

Robertson of Wyoming Untrapped, although pleased with the commission’s action Wednesday, had told commissioners the department’s recommendations “for the most part … don’t go far enough.” Wyoming Untrapped sought more expansive trap-free areas, daily trap checks and the non-target reporting.

Schmid appeared wary of an ongoing campaign against trapping and tangled with Robertson. He asked whether deer mutilated by dogs should be reported as non-target animals and told her that trappers operate under regulations while “your group has none.” 

He asked what else pet owners could do to prevent injuries from traps.

Robertson pointed to pet-owner workshops, encouragement to have pets under control and other outreach. “We think we’ve given just about all we can give,” Robertson said.  

“We think it’s now the turn of the trapping community,” she said. “We need traps off our trails.” 

Vets: trapping unscientific and cruel

Existing regulations are not based on science, veterinarian Donal O’Toole told the board. The agency report to the commission lacked references to other states’ regulations, to professional organizations and to the scientific literature, he said.

“I think the key determinant [in forming a regulation] is what trappers find most convenient,” O’Toole said. “It doesn’t take into account the animal’s welfare.”

Sixteen states require checks every 24 hours for all traps, he said. American veterinarians oppose leg-hold traps, mammalogists say they should be checked twice a day and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies urges trappers to check traps daily “to reduce suffering” and free non-target animals, O’Toole said.

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Several commenters said trapping is wrongly characterized as a management tool because Game and Fish does not require enough reporting and collect enough data to make the pursuit a science-based program.

Riverton veterinarian Gunda Gamble told the commission of treating pets’ damaged limbs. “We talk to the families,” she said, “see the devastation it causes for years.”

If pet owners caused such injuries, the owners would probably be charged with abuse and neglect, Gamble said.

Laramie resident Ed Koncel told of his dog’s foot being crushed by a trap, having to carry her a mile and a half back to a trailhead at Pole Mountain, and having no recourse for recouping vet bills. Trappers should be responsible for the cost of treating injured non-target pets like his dog, he said.

Scott Johnson, who said he operates a wildlife-friendly ranch near Sheridan, asked commission members how they might feel if their pet was trapped. “How long would you want them in there, suffering and dying?” he said.

In an era of synthetic materials that have replaced fur, trappers, Johnson said, “are living in the past.”

Trappers disagree. The state association seeks to “maintain the public image of trapping as a legitimate, desirable and compatible enterprise, of modern man… protection and restoration of our natural and historical heritage,” its website states.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. If Wyoming was to join the modern world of 2020, It wouldn’t be the great state that it is. What you obviously don’t understand is that the hunters, trappers and fishers of Wyoming are the ones funding a lot of the public land. Therefore we should be able to act like its the 1800s and trap. The hanky heads do not contribute to keeping the public lands open, they just use it. I agree with Dan that all the hikers, rock climbers, and hanky head dope smokers should have to purchase a conservation stamp to utilize our public lands.

    Instead of trying to change Wyoming and it’s heritage, you should embrace it. If you don’t like it, feel free to move to another state that fits your values.

    1. People who promote “heritage” are living in the past, a past that has intruded into the present with representatives and a governor who lack the ability to govern their way out of a wet paper bag, because their ideas of governance are from the 19th Century. In Wyoming, most public lands funding is from the federal government, not the state. ALL of us own those lands.

      And, my friend, I have no plans of vacating the state on your say-so.

  2. Ranchers pay grazing fees. Hunters, fishermen, trappers licenses are required. Horn Hunters, cyclist, hikers, dog walkers, photographers, ECT. Should all be required to have at least a Wyoming conservation stamp to use the great outdoors, it would help in these tight budget times to keep these public areas open. I agree there are some slobs out there.

    1. The state has NO legal basis for assessing fees on nonconsumptive uses of FEDERAL land. The state does “own”, and is responsible for, management of fish and wildlife resources on federal land. The state may thus require appropriate state licenses and stamps for those attempting to legally take from those resources on federal (or private, or state-owned) lands within the state, but the federal government owns, and is responsible for management of, the habitat on federal lands.

  3. Maybe it’s my age but I read these articles and feel like I should be a vegetarian, and not wear animal fur. However, if you hunt for your meat because there is no other alternative to feeding yourself, OK. Probably need trap location restrictions so pets are protected; sorry trappers.

  4. Just a matter of time until Wyoming is turned into another Colorado. This is very disappointing that this topic is even being brought up. Next thing you know, Wyoming will be full of greenies, trying to shut down forest service and making it into Wilderness Areas. Oh wait that’s already happening.

    1. Change is hard. But it’s time to leave the 1800’s and join the modern world of 2020. The day of the Mountain Man is likely no past. The world does not need more cowboys: it needs more folks to think rationally and embrace that Wyoming must join the modern era.

    2. In response to Tim. But it is more disappointing is to go for walk with your dog on PUBLIC land and watch him die because a trapper put traps beside a trail.. Another dog was trapped last Saturday 14th Nov, this time at Vedauwoo (between Laramie + Cheyenne). Fortunately, the owners managed to free the animal. Trappers (on one hand) and walkers, hikers, bikers and skiers (on the other) can share our extraordinary and extensive public lands. The WGFC appears willing to hear the case that it makes sense to try separating these two activities, esp. for areas heavily used by walkers, bikers, etc., such as Vedauwoo and Pilot Hill (in my area; Laramie). It is daft that it is legal for trappers to set traps on virtually all NF, BLM and state lands in Wyoming. As is no longer 1820. Indeed, it may no longer be the 1920s.