Bobcats are among the animals trappers can take in Wyoming. (Mike McBride/FlickrCC)

It’s time for Wyoming to reform trapping regulations for public safety and for the sake of our wildlife. 

Trappers are allowed to place traps, including snares, almost anywhere on public land, including on and near trails and popular recreation areas. Family pets, livestock and “non-target” animals, such as deer and raptors, are caught in these traps. 

Instantly lethal trigger-powered snares (also called Senneker snares) are being used. This type of snare recently killed a dog out for a run with his owner in Fremont County. 

Trapping is becoming an increasingly popular amateur sport thanks in part to reality television shows that romanticize it such as “FUR LIFE TV” and “Klondike Trappers.” From 2001 to 2019 the number of trapping licenses sold in Wyoming more than doubled, according to Wyoming Game and Fish numbers. This does not count people trapping predators — no license is required for that. 

A great horned owl with a snare around its claw. (Kerry Singleton)

The Wyoming public has a right to recreate on public land without fear of their companion animals being killed or maimed by a hidden trap.  

Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Nebraska all have trap setback regulations.  Wyoming must also update its trapping regulations to prevent further harm.  Trap-free zones around heavily used recreation areas and trap setbacks around popular trails are just common sense. Mandatory reporting of the non-target animals, including pets, that are caught in traps is needed so we know the true cost of trapping. 

Colorado and Idaho require trapper education. With so many new enthusiasts entering the sport, Wyoming should do the same. 

Aside from the public safety issue, there is a cruelty issue. There is an abundance of research showing that animals are capable of complex communication and feelings such as pain, distress and suffering. Most hunters have ethics. They wouldn’t let an animal take several days to suffer and die. They don’t harm or kill what they aren’t targeting and they eat what they kill.  

Trapping, however, is largely done to collect pelts, rather than harvest meat for eating.

What are trapping ethics? How many non-target animals are caught in traps? How many days are animals left to endure pain and distress before dying? What is the point of the killing? The bulk of furs are sent to Russia and China because American demand is low.  

Why would we compromise our ethics, threaten public safety and deplete wildlife on public lands to sell fur pelts abroad that no one at home wants?

Foxes are considered predatory animals in Wyoming and can be harvested without a license in the state. (Timothy Mayo)

Live traps should be required whenever possible with mandatory 24-hour checking of traps when live traps are not an option. Colorado and Nebraska require traps be checked within 24 hours. Colorado requires live traps. Hunters and anglers have to buy conservation stamps. Trappers should be required to do the same.    

Wyoming Game and Fish has set up an internal working group on trapping reform. Some regulation changes are under their jurisdiction and some are statute changes that must be made by the Wyoming Legislature. 

Trappers are weighing in. Our decision makers need to hear from other public land users too. You can make a difference by contacting Gov. Mark Gordon and your state representatives as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Let them know you want to see trapping regulations that protect the public and our wildlife. 

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You can find out more at wyominguntrapped.org, bornfreeusa.org, wytrapfreemontcounty.org and wgfd.wyo.gov.   

Freedom in wild and open spaces goes hand in hand with personal responsibility, accountability and respect for the backcountry and the animals living there. Wyoming’s trapping regulations should reflect those values. 

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14 Comments

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  1. I can understand the many perspectives and everyone has a recreational activity they enjoy. That is why we are here. People need to be responsible and reasonable. I am a trapper and many other things. I do not trap close to town specifically to avoid incidents with pets. Pet owners are recreating further from town to enjoy the openness of the landscape. However incidents do happen and there are regulations in place to facilitate mitigation (names on traps for one). Trapping does serve a purpose far beyond putting fur on foreigners. I would like to remind Kristine that to many of the natives of Wyoming she is a foreigner, as am I.

    As for the young man whos says trapping is not a Wyoming historical heritage, he forgets the trappers were some of the very first in Wyoming. Many of the trappers worked for the government at times helping to blaze the way for the rest who became residents.

    I came to Wyoming in 1980 from Utah to enjoy the freedoms and sprawling open country of the state. I enjoy that the state has a low population density. I love this states resources and the states resources have provided me with a fine living. Besides trapping I have enjoyed hunting, fishing, boating, water skiing, canoes, rafting, snow machines, motorcycles, snow skiing, hot pools (Thermopolis and Saratoga), Yellowstone national park (Americas 1st), rodeos in Cody (another animal abuse activity) and many other recreational aspects this state has to offer.

    Do you want your recreational activities to be more restricted? I don’t believe more regulation is the answer.

    Trapping has evolved and will continue to evolve. There have been changes in both laws and equipment. I suggest before anyone becomes to critical on the subject matter and states a solution that they become a bit more informed. I have studied trapping and trapped for over 50 years. Most of the trappers I know have mentored under another trapper. Personal ethics and integrity play a vary important aspect in what we do. Unfortunately some of us make poor judgements. I suggest we deal with individual issues rather than regulating the activity.

    The Wyoming Game and Fish have enforcement officers that will assist any any wildlife issue. Make use of the resources at your disposal as a first alternative.

    I appreciate the opportunity to share.

  2. Thank you, Kristin O’Brien for the article. I support reform of Wyoming trapping regulations. This issue is about Wyoming wildlife and the role that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has in protecting wildlife as entrusted to them by the laws and people of Wyoming. In the very early days of statehood two positions were created, the State Fish Warden in 1890 and the State Game Warden in 1899, as a result of the “ruthless exploitation of the late 1800’s” in which “unlimited harvest had left Wyoming’s wildlife resources vastly depleted from pre-settlement levels.” The quotes are from the WGFD Comprehensive Management System Strategic Plan FY17-21. The WGFD is entrusted with the management, protection and regulation, and control of Wyoming Wildlife, all 800 species from the pocketbook mussel to the pika and beyond. “Conserving Wildlife, serving people” is the mission statement of the WGFD. The two warden positions were created because without management and regulation, exploitation results. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the tragedy of the commons and as a nation we experienced it in our rangelands and our natural resources.
    And, as Director Nesvik aptly points out in his “From the Director” page in the October 2020 Wyoming Wildlife magazine, which I enjoy, all wildlife agencies were created under the public trust doctrine. The citizens have entrusted the care of all Wyoming wildlife, all 800 species, to the WGFD, which is under the supervision and direction of the WGF Commission. How does the WGFD meet the great challenge of managing and conserving Wyoming’s wildlife for the future? Primarily through science and public input. I really appreciated Director Nesvik’s expression that all voices have value and are heard. I attended the Laramie September trapping meeting, and I appreciated the opportunity. Regarding science, since the 1970’s wildlife monitoring principles and practices have become more and more sophisticated and data driven. Again, Wyoming Wildlife magazine and the exciting WGFD YouTube videos are great ways to learn about the tools and techniques of wildlife management and habitat improvements.
    Now these scientific practices need to drive trapping reform. So, I say yes, to mandatory trapper education. Yes, to the adoption of Best Practices for Trapping (see Assoc. Fish and Wildlife Agencies). Yes, to mandatory reporting of non-target species, which not uncommonly includes pets, livestock, big game and protected species like the river otter. Yes, to limits on trapping and population surveys of targeted species. There are no “bag limits” imposed on most fur bearers, with the exception of the marten and beaver in some areas where field personnel offer antidotal evidence of trapper crowding or depletion of a vulnerable population. How can we possibly manage if we do not know population dynamics? Yes, to signage on public land that informs of trapping activity in the area. Many, many people have no idea the popularity of trapping. Yes, to the required purchase of conservation stamp by trappers for each license. And, more.
    For the record, I am a big supporter of the WGFD. I enthusiastically purchased a Conservation Plate because I wanted to show my support for the great work of the department and because I like supporting targeted projects, safer migration in this case. I purchase conservation stamps, old and new, and drop them in greeting cards for family and friends. I certainly would have happily paid more than $5 for the AIS decal on my 13’ canoe. I know that folks at all levels in the department work hard. Trapping reform has the potential to be a controversial issue. There is common ground, and some trappers actually support reform. To learn more about trapping regulations visit the WGFD website. Public awareness, education on the issues, and engagement are key. To learn more about the positive impacts (water storage in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, e. g., beaver ponds as fire refuges and fire breaks, beaver ponds in mitigating acid run-off at abandoned mining sites) of beavers, which do not eat fish, on riparian ecosystems see research by Emily Fairfax Ph.D.

  3. This excellent piece by Kristine O’Brien nails the facts. Trapping conflicts are a problem with a solution. Informed advocates for trapping reform are on the rise throughout the state as we continue to receive reports of senseless dog-trapping incidents which no accountability by anyone. Traps and snares are legal directly on all public trails, even highly used recreational trails and areas in our state. 

    Meanwhile, other non-target animals, wild and domestic, are being caught indiscriminately by these devices which litter our landscape throughout the year.  Add to the losses the annual unlimited trapping of thousands of target animals, which are not required to be reported (only 30% of trappers report). Take a look at our non-target trapping database, (https://wyominguntrapped.org/database) for the reported incidents which include almost all wildlife in the state, even grizzlies. 71+ dogs, 57 mule deer, 33 protected otter, 11 pronghorn, 56 mountain lions (most killed in snares), 5 golden eagles, bobcat, beaver, elk, the 7 lb. swift fox, and even dusky shrews. Unconscionable!

    The good news is that following petitions to the WGF Commission last January to address trapping reform this year, the Commission responded by directing WGFD to review current regulations. Fast-forward to today, and WGFD will recommend new trapping reform regs this Wednesday, Oct 21. They will then be reviewed and possibly voted on during the November 17-19 Commission meeting in Buffalo. Mandatory trapper education has already been recommended as a possible legislative draft bill to be addressed this session.  Most of our requests for regulation changes are under Wyoming statute requiring legislative action. WU and other advocates have requested meetings with legislators to address additional regulation changes under Wyoming statutes.

    WU is focused on trap-free areas and trap setbacks which would prohibit traps set for furbearers, and predatory animals such as jackrabbits, red fox and skunk. Instead of the current 72 hour trap checks, and in some cases up to 13 days, we are requesting 24-hour trap checks for all trapping and snaring. Add required reporting of all non-target animals. Trappers may argue that trapping is a management tool.  But without mandatory reporting there is no data, without data there is no management.  Add warning signs for traps in the area, and more.

    Please take the time to share your voice for trapping regulations which reflect the new generation of public lands users who value wildlife, big and small, across our public landscapes.  Trapping and other recreation need reasonable separation. Speak out for safety on our public lands.  

    Now is the time for fast-track action. Get involved, informed, and take action.  Contact you local wildlife agencies, your legislators, and Governor Gordon.  Write letters, make phone calls, and encourage your friends to do the same.  To learn more:  https://wyominguntrapped.org.   

  4. About time meaningful trapping regulations were adopted. When I was a kid, the family dog got caught in one. He survived but should never have been caught in the first place.

  5. I’m not a trapper but a few thoughts come to mind. First off, move ins to Wyoming need to understand that trapping is part of our western heritage. It’s not hard to understand why someone who has lived in Switzerland, UK, France and the UAE would find trapping out of place. But in Wyoming it serves many purposes, including added income for trappers, recreation and predator control.

    Secondly, users of public land should be aware that these lands serve many different activities. The idea that the lands you like to use, should be closed to trappers just because you don’t want to leash your pet seems a bit self centered.

    Lastly, if trapping should be overly restricted or prohibited just because some may fee it causes undo “suffering” we are on a very slippery slope. Many things can cause animals to suffer. Rifle hunting, archery hunting, and hooking a fish come to mind. Should these be outlawed as well? And for those who pride themselves as “non consumptive users” there really is no such thing. If you drive a car, live in a home or shop at the store, you are as guilty as anyone. After all, every activity you do displaces wildlife, destroys habitat and causes animal to suffer and die, because you are forcing them to try to survive in sub optimal conditions. Something to consider when pointing the finger at others.

    1. Coming from the actual “west” (CA)’ve heard the “western heritage” nonsense all my life. This is the 21st Century, not the 19th.

    2. Wait a minute Robert. Trapping is not a part of “our” heritage. My father whose father was born in Wyoming in 1890 hated the idea of trapping, as do I and my sister (both born and raised here). We were all born in Wyoming and don’t like it. Your suggestion that trapping is a part of Wyoming simply isn’t true. Nice try!

  6. Thank you, Ms. O’Brien, for publicly raising this important issue. I am a long-time resident of Laramie who enjoys the outdoor recreational opportunities our area offers. I am also a dog owner whose dog was trapped in a “distributed” campground on public lands in the Medicine Bow National Forest, Pole Mountain Unit, east of Laramie last November. After freeing her crushed foot from the trap, I was force to carry her a mile and a half in a driving snowstorm back to the car and take her to my veterinarian.
    This year I attended one of the several Game and Fish Department’s Community meetings about trapping regulation reforms. It was held in Laramie and on-line on September 9th of this year. Prior to that meeting, in my July 2nd letter to Game and Fish I stressed the need for year-round, trap-free areas (like the year-round, heavily used recreation area east of Laramie in the Medicine Bow National Forest Pole Mountain Unit where my dog was trapped) and the need for trapper responsibility for their traps, including legal and financial liability for any injuries or deaths their traps cause. I offered to talk to them by phone but was never contacted before the meeting even though according to Game and Fish slides at the meeting, 55 trappers were interviewed to help set the agenda and only 6 dog owners. When I tried to bring these matters up during the community meeting, I was told I was off topic and cut off.
    Recently, I presented public comments to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee on Thursday, September 24th, 2020 during the discussion with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department regarding trapping regulation reform. I asked this committee to add year-round, trap-free areas and trapper responsibility, including legal and financial liability for their traps either through legislation or by giving direction to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to include these in their redraft of trapping regulations.
    In an email this week to committee members, I again asked them to consider designating trap-free areas either through legislation or other means for year-round, heavily-used recreational areas like the Medicine Bow National Forest Pole Mountain Unit east of Laramie. Surely out of Wyoming’s 97,814 square miles, setting aside the approximately 86 square miles (55,000 acres, representing less than 0.1% of the state) that the Pole Mountain unit encompasses on the Medicine Bow National Forest is not too much to ask for safe use by local, state and out-of-state recreationalists without concern for traps and conflicts with trappers. By the way, Google describes this area as follows: “The area experiences heavy year-round usage from the Laramie, Cheyenne and Fort Collins areas.”
    In my experience, trappers have many rights and virtually unlimited access to public lands, but no responsibility for the damages their traps may cause. Others need to be able to enjoy our public lands with their children and pets safely.

  7. I can not imagine a pet that I love being caught and perishing in a trap. Since moving to Wyoming four years ago, I carry a pair of wire cutters in my backpack while hiking. We also don’t allow our pet to run loose but it is regrettable that this danger exists. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.

    1. I wouldn’t like my pretty caught in a trap but I must point out that the dog killed by the power ram snare was on private property and they where jogging through it without permission. I know who has sweet the traps ( they were having livestock issues) and I talked to the game warden that investigated it. The warden was adement that the dog owner was at fault

  8. Thank you, Ms. O’Brien, for this piece. It is timely.

    Next week WGFD biologists from WGFD will release interim recommendations to amend trapping regulations and laws (Wed Oct 21). These will be posted to the department’s web site (https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/trapping-in-Wyoming) After additional public comment, revised recommendations go before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on November 17-18. The meetings are public. They are transmitted live. I think there are opportunities for public comment.

    As Ms. O’Brien notes, trapping in Wyoming is largely unregulated. Granted, trappers must buy a license for furbearing species ($45 for resident adult; $6 for <17 years resident). And there are defined periods for trapping – mostly, winter months.

    I spoke to a veterinary colleague yesterday. She told me her clinic in Wyoming treated about 10 dogs for trap and snare injuries in the past few years. Several necessitated leg amputations. WGFD does not require trappers to report the incidents or other "non-target captures". A local NGO (https://wyominguntrapped.org/) reports incidents it hears of. Trappers are organized and were well represented in the WGFD process. But the walking public and their dogs: less so.

    I encourage WyoFile readers who use public land to share your experiences with traps, snares and trappers with WGFD biologists or, better yet, the WGFC. By the way, coyote whacking remains legal in Wyoming. It is the sport of killing coyotes with a snowmobile.

    Many absurdities and gaps exist in our current trapping regulations and laws. My favorite is the status of the jackrabbit. It is officially a “predatory animal” under W. S. 1977 § 11-6-101 – 313. Let me know next time you see a jackrabbit take down a sheep.

    1. Your wrong on several topics. You are required to report non target catches, and jackrabbits is considered a predator because of the crop damages in the past when they have decimated entire fields

      1. JW: “You are required to report non target catches”

        It may be that trappers are required to report stuff but many trappers/hunters have a long history of unethical behavior including not reporting stuff. Just google it.

        As for rabbits, I bet they can do a number on crops. And they probably multiply like rats. If a rabbit is nowhere near a crop field, the “predator ” threat/label is probably overstated but I will also bet that they are feed for other “predators” that may have a much larger habitat and willingness to travel. The biggest problem with the “predator’ label is that many of the species may be in locations that pose no real threat to human activity but they may still be subject to wanton killing for “fun”. At that point, the real predator is the trapper/hunter.

        Overall, the regulations in Wyoming are outdated and in need of an upgrade. It’s way past time. The regulations lack nuance and common sense.