In January, a family on a hike near Las Vegas came upon a fox caught in a leghold trap. The family’s dog narrowly escaped capture from another trap close by. The trap holding the fox had been set near the mouth of its den with buried bait used as an attractant.
The family released the fox, prompting congratulations from PETA but drawing ire from trappers. Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) game wardens, citing a misdemeanor statute (Nevada Revised Statutes 503.454) that prohibits tampering with a legally set trap, decided to cite the family to the tune of about $700.
Contrast this story with another from a few years ago.
During 2013–2014, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners (NBWC) convened a trapping committee that held meetings around the state about whether to shorten the existing statewide trap visitation interval of 96 hours.
The meetings were well attended, contentious, and unproductive. In the end, the wildlife commission refused to shorten trap visitation anywhere except for the suburbs of Las Vegas and Reno.
Coincidental with the tenure of the trapping committee, the President of the Nevada Trappers Association got himself cited for not visiting his traps for (at least) 10 days. Pleading guilty, he accrued a fine of $350 for his misadventure.
The location of the trap violation for which he was cited was about 180 miles northwest of Reno, where he lives, at the California border near Cedarville. How many dozens or hundreds of traps he had strung out between Reno and Cedarville is a matter of speculation. Whatever the number, hapless trap victims were condemned to an unpleasant fate.
Trapping is Not Popular
Fortunately for trappers (and all who kill or injure wildlife), their activities, no matter how objectionable, are exempt from animal cruelty statutes (NRS 574.200). This exemption does not serve the public well nor anything useful for wildlife.
Private fur trapping is unpopular with the public. A recent survey by fish and game agencies showed levels of approval barely into double digits for reasons trapping occurs in Nevada: money, fur, recreation.
Since trapping is specifically included in NRS as a legal means to kill wildlife, getting rid of trapping would require legislative action or a ballot initiative. Theoretically, Congress could ban the use of traps and snares on public lands. Though an anti-trapping bill is introduced into Congress almost every session, none have prevailed.
Trapping is a horribly destructive activity that has been banned or severely restricted in 85 countries and 7 states.
In Nevada, it flourishes, with a standard 4-5 month “trapping season” running from October or November through February or later depending on the species pursued. Regulations are minimal, species quotas by individual trapper or statewide are non-existent, and agency interest in tracking trapper activity is minimal. Enforcement is difficult due to the 96-hour trap visitation interval.
What About BMPs?
Shortly after the European Union (EU) came into existence in 1993, it considered a ban on importation of fur obtained using traps or snares because of cruelty. Fish and game agencies in the U.S. leaped to the defense of fur trappers by proposing a “research” program to determine Best Management Practices (BMP) for trappers.
Trappers were paid to “experimentally” trap animals with a variety of devices…traps with different designs, spring tensions, spacers, while collecting data on the outcome as to the efficiency of capture, problems with devices, and the like. A 24-hour trap check interval was used for all data collection.
The EU accepted BMPs, and fur importation was allowed without further scrutiny.
However, BMP appears to have had little effect on trapping practices in the U.S. According to the same trapping survey previously mentioned, 70% of Nevada trappers are unaware of BMPs. BMPs are also silent on the protection of non-target trap victims.
Even if Nevada trappers were cognizant of BMPs and attempted to implement recommendations, Nevada’s 96-hour trap visitation interval is four times longer than what was used to create BMP recommendations, thereby casting doubt on the validity of any BMP recommendation in Nevada.
Traps and Snares … Utterly Indiscriminate
There are basically three kinds of devices used by trappers in Nevada to inflict damage on the public’s wildlife assets: Leghold traps are hundreds of years old in design, capturing the animal by a foot or leg; body-gripping traps and snares are designed to close over the entire neck or body; and perhaps the worst are cable or wire neck snares, designed to use the struggles of the animal to further tighten the noose, resulting in strangulation.
Cage traps are available but disliked and not often used by trappers due to convenience factors.
Adding to the cruelty of such devices, they are non-selective. While experienced trappers may increase their odds of capturing target species (e.g., bobcats, coyotes) over novices, it is beyond debate that non-target capture is a major abuse inflicted on wildlife.
When trappers were asked in a national survey to list unintended captures when specifically targeting coyotes, they responded thusly.
Agency Stance: What, Me, Worry?
NDOW has been remarkably incurious about non-target capture by fur trappers. The agency has done no systematic inquiry or data collection in the past 20 years. NBWC has refused to put a discussion of non-target capture on its agenda to allow public discussion.
Despite that odd indifference by a state agency, itself a witness to unnecessary destruction of public property but turning away, public records requests from the agency have allowed for some independent analysis of the impact on non-target species:
- Scattered records from 2002 to 2016 provided this set of data, showing that approximately 20% of trappers reported non-target capture of thousands of animals and birds. While rabbits bear the brunt of it, everything from pack rats and domestic pets to mountain lions are also affected.
- Incidental trapping of mountain lions is a significant problem, utterly ignored by NDOW and NBWC.
- Alyson Andreasen, Ph.D. reported on her concerns about incidental lion capture in Nevada in a prominent wildlife publication, yet to be recognized by NDOW/NBWC.
No Quotas, No Worries
The most targeted animal in Nevada by trappers is the bobcat. Its pelt price can vary, year to year, ranging from a few hundred dollars per pelt to beyond $1000 some years. Coyotes are sought by some, though pelt prices are usually double-digit values. Foxes, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, otter, and other species are also pursued.
The single important factor that unites all species pursued by trappers is that none have quotas to protect them; not per trapper; not statewide or by region. Trappers are free to kill as many of a species as they can manage in the time allowed.
Trapping license sales are unlimited as well. On average, about 1,000 trapping licenses are sold each year. At $40 per license, NDOW receives about $40,000 in annual revenue from trapping license sales.
NDOW’s Law Enforcement Division has an annual budget of about $7 million. If game wardens spend at least 10% of their time on trapping enforcement (quite likely), NDOW is “subsidizing” trapping to the tune of $700,000 per year. Trapping licenses do not pay the costs of the activity.
So, Why are Trappers Defended by Agencies and License Holders?
In a nutshell, trappers are the lead domino in the “domino theory.” Tip over the first domino and the rest fall, too.
It’s the “slippery slope” argument: If trappers go, so go our shotguns, our rifles, our bird dogs, our heritage, our “Constitutional right” to kill wildlife.
It has been said that if trapping occurred in supermarket parking lots, trapping would have disappeared long ago. But it occurs out of sight, allowing trappers, agencies, and supporters to minimize the terrible carnage that occurs and spin fanciful narratives that are without merit.
As long as (so-called) fur-bearing animals are viewed as second-class citizens in the world of wildlife management; as long as “wildlife” means only deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn to wildlife agencies, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, foxes, beaver, muskrats, and other species pursued by trappers around the West will receive no relief.
The Solution: Reform current wildlife management
We’re working on it.
Don Molde is a 50-year Reno resident, retired psychiatrist, co-founder of Nevada Wildlife Alliance, former board member of Defenders of Wildlife, and former board member of the Nevada Humane Society. He has been active in wildlife advocacy for 45 years. Support Don’s work here.
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