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Trap Incidents -- Stories from people throughout Nevada - Pets and Unintended Wildlife getting Trapped

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TRAPPED: Has Northern Nevada's population outgrown state trapping laws?
Jeff DeLong
February 11, 2007

Investigating a smell, Duke the dog lowered his snout into trouble.

A steel trap snapped shut, pinching the folds of flesh on the retriever's face. Owner Carol Grigus heard her pet's yelps of pain and rushed to his side, horrified.

"It was very frightening," Grigus said of the Feb. 1 incident in the Jones Creek drainage, just outside Galena Creek Regional Park south of Reno.

Duke was freed unharmed, but that event, along with two others in the same area in previous weeks, has called into question policies regarding animal trapping near popular recreation areas and growing neighborhoods.

Gary Schiff, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, recently wrote the Nevada Department of Wildlife asking that trapping regulations be reviewed to ensure the public's safety.

"We're concerned for the safety of the recreating public," Schiff said. "Human safety is paramount."

The string of incidents in the Galena area began in early December when another dog was caught in a trap on national forest land in the Whites Creek drainage. It continued in January in nearby Jones Creek, when a dog owner saw his pet sniffing around a trap but was able to keep the animal from tripping the device. Then came Duke's misadventure.

The incidents were linked to the same trapper, who did nothing wrong, said Dave Patula, a warden who investigated the matter for the Department of Wildlife. The trapper -- who voluntarily removed his traps from the area -- was properly licensed and followed state trapping regulations, Patula said.

"There wasn't anything illegal," said Patula, who was given the trap that snared Duke by a Washoe County ranger who helped Grigus free her pet.

Lack of snow cover has made this winter particularly attractive to trappers across the state, Patula said. Trapping season lasts from Nov. 1 through February.

Most trappers are going after bobcats, which have pelts valued at an average of $300, Patula said. The demand of pelts for fur coats is high, particularly overseas.

But this year's busy trapping season has led to a record number of complaints, usually involving mishaps with dogs. Patula couldn't provide the number of complaints but said it's impressive.

"This has been the worst year I've had for complaints about trapping in my 28 years with the agency," said Patula, a former trapper himself.

The Galena-area incidents led to efforts by some residents to change regulations they say put people and pets at risk.

"This is deeply troubling to me," said Trish Swain, who is forming a citizens group, TrailSafe, to address the issue.

Swain, like Grigus, said she's worried trapping is allowed in places like Jones Creek and Whites Creek where so many people and pets like to hike and play.

"We care very deeply for our trails and our hiking and our pets," Swain said. "This alarmed me very, very much."

Fallon resident Jim Curran, a member of the Nevada Trappers Association, said the organization hasn't taken a position on whether traps should be banned near trails.

Lack of snow cover has resulted in people taking pets for walks this season where traps often are placed, especially in the urban areas around Reno, Curran said.

"In this situation, if people are letting their dogs loose, that's an increased potential for problems," he said.

"Generally in the Sierra foothills, there is normally 2 or 3 feet of snow."

Trapping, like hunting, hiking, bird-watching and other activities, is one of the many "multiple uses" allowed in national forests.

But in his letter to the Department of Wildlife, Schiff suggested that some limited changes in state regulations regarding trapping might be in order. For one, existing regulations prohibit trapping within 200 feet of a public road or highway but make no mention of hiking trails.

"We would ask if it would not be prudent to review current 'separation' regulations to assure they are still adequate to protect the recreating pubic as well as area residents," Schiff wrote to Russ Mason, administrator of the department's game division.

Department of Wildlife officials said addressing the issue statewide would be difficult.

"We don't think we can do something as specific as they want," said Chris Healy, department spokesman. "It's best done on a local basis."

Residents concerned about the Galena trapping incidents said they may approach Washoe County with a request to adopt local trapping regulations.

County officials are already considering the issue.

"We have our own concerns regarding the setting of traps near trails," said Doug Doolittle, county parks director.

Doolittle said the county will be working with both the Forest Service and Department of Wildlife on the matter. One possibility under discussion is the possible amendment of an existing ordinance regarding target shooting to make it pertain to trapping, said Kim Evans, county spokeswoman.

As more homes are built near the forest, problems such as the one now revolving around trapping are bound to increase, Schiff said.

"What you get is a rapidly expanding population right up to the forest," Schiff said. "Issues that weren't issues even a decade ago are becoming ones today, and that's going to increase."

Patula agreed an expanding population is central to the problem.

"The population is growing and people are living in more rural areas," Patula said. "You just have a lot more people in what five or 10 years ago was considered the boonies."

Gazette-Journal reporter Carla Roccapriore contributed to this story.