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SPECIAL TO THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
January 4, 2007
On Dec. 9, a Saturday afternoon, A family went for a hike along the White's Creek Trail. Just 200 yards from the parking lot, their dog was caught in a steel trap. It took several people to free the older dog.
When I first heard about the incident (one of the people who helped free the dog stopped me on the trail shortly after it happened), I didn't quite believe what I was hearing. After all, this was a posted recreational area.
Nevada Department of Wildlife Game Warden Dave Patula confirmed that trapping in White's Canyon is legal, as long as the trapper follows all state trapping regulations. U.S. Forest Service land is considered "multiple use," which means a variety of activities can occur in the same area: hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, mining, hunting and trapping. Although these activities seem at odds, it is up to forest land users to be aware of the laws and regulations in the area they are using.
The probable target of the steel trap set at the White's Creek trailhead was bobcat. Bobcats are the most economically attractive furbearers in the forest. Although a variety of animals are trapped in Washoe County, bobcat is the prime target. The trapping season for bobcat is Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. Foxes, beaver, muskrat, mink and otter have different opening and closing dates which you can find at the Nevada Department of Wildlife Web page, nevadawildlife.org.
In the mid-1990s, under a depressed fur market, bobcat was the high dollar pelt, earning just under $25 each. Today, a prime winter-coat bobcat can bring in nearly $600.
Statistics for the 2005-06 trapping season show there were 30 registered trappers targeting bobcat specifically in Washoe County. That was nearly double the next closest number of trappers, 16 registered who were targeting coyote. Those 30 trappers caught 466 bobcats in Washoe County in the 2005-06 season.
Trappers are not required to report "non-target" animals caught in their traps. Trappers are not liable for any damages to pets or even people who inadvertently step in their traps. Most traps are disguised by ground cover, or are situated in narrow areas requiring an animal to walk into it. They can be hard to see. Bait lures in targeted animals as well as pets.
In Nevada, once a trap is legally set, no one but the trapper may remove the trap or any animal caught, under penalty of fines and/or legal action. In Nevada, a trapper must check a trap designed not to cause immediate death within 96 hours (four days). Other states have more humane time limits, 36 hours in Michigan, for example.
Steel traps close with enormous force and will bruise at the very least, and can kill an animal should its head become caught while sniffing at the bait.
The White's Creek trailhead and neighboring Thomas Creek trailhead, accessible from Timberline Road off the Mount Rose Highway, have seen a huge increase in recreational use since the bond WC-1 passed in November 2000. That bond resulted in leveling and paving access roads into the White's and Thomas Creek canyons. Parking lots, restrooms and picnic tables make the area an attractive forest access for hundreds of people.
These forest access areas border the Mount Rose Wilderness, which is home to black bear, mountain lion, bobcat and coyote. Recreational forest users need to be aware of the inherent danger of going into areas that are home to large predators.
It is not unusual for hikers to cross paths with a mountain lion. Dogs frequently encounter resident coyotes. Bobcat sightings are a rare and exciting event. Most forest users know that they are low on the totem pole when it comes to survivability in an encounter with a bear or lion or even the weather. It surprised most of the people I talked to along the trails that they might encounter a steel-jawed trap on an afternoon hike.
Dog walkers especially need to use caution when using forest trails. It is a dog owner's responsibility to know exactly where their dog is and abide by the laws. According to the Carson Ranger District in Carson City, the laws governing dogs on forest service land are that the dog be "under control." That means verbally or, preferably, on a leash. Nevada law states that dogs that are known to be actively harassing and/or killing big game mammals can be legally shot.
It is the not the responsibility of the Forest Service or the trapper to warn the general public about the presence of traps set on public lands. The Department of Wildlife oversees management of thousands of acres of Nevada land. Posting signs informing users of the possible presence of traps is unlikely. The rangers at Galena Creek Park do not have jurisdiction within USFS lands. It is not their responsibility to post signs governing all laws in effect on public lands.
There is currently legislation before Congress (H.R. 3442) proposing to end the use of steel-jawed leghold traps on animals in the United States. It is cited as the "Inhumane Trapping Prevention Act." Until this bill passes, or Washoe County addresses the issue of trapping on public trails in its urban areas, it is prudent for hikers and all outdoor recreational enthusiasts to know the laws in their area.
Katie Wulftange is an avid outdoors enthusiast and resident of South Suburban Reno.
ON THE WEB:
Nevada Department of Wildlife: http://www.ndow.org/
Ban Cruel Traps http://www.bancrueltraps.com/