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.”
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.
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.
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.