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Trapping, A Frontier Tradition, No Longer Makes Sense in Southern Nevada
By John L. Smith
Luna's anguished howl was unmistakable. The dog was in trouble.
Lorrie and Steve Brittingham had taken their mixed husky for a walk up Macks Canyon Road near their home in Lee Canyon at sundown on Nov. 19, when the dog smelled something and bounded ahead to investigate. Lined with pine and juniper, Macks Canyon is popular with picnickers, campers, off-roaders, and hikers and their dogs. In their 23 years as Lee Canyon residents, the Brittinghams often used the road.
When they heard the animal's cry, they came on the double.
"We ran up there to see what was going on and found her in a trap," Steve Brittingham said. "There was blood all over her paw and mouth. She had cut her mouth up trying to get out of the trap."
Game traps aren't designed to allow animals to escape, and Brittingham had to run back to his house to retrieve a tool strong enough to pry open its iron jaws. The couple rushed the dog to an animal hospital in Las Vegas, where she was treated for a crushing injury that somehow didn't fracture her left forepaw. Cost of treatment: $1,500.
After the animal returned home, Brittingham started to look into the person responsible for placing a trap designed for bobcats within a few paces of a well-traveled trail and road. Mike Maynard, a warden with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, confirmed Monday that his office is investigating the incident.
"It was right across from a heavily used camping area," Brittingham said. "This trail was real close to the road, just a few seconds' walk."
Licensed trapping is common in Nevada's rural areas. The rules governing it are guided more by frontier tradition than a thick book of statutes. In Nevada, the season starts in November and ends in February. As a general rule, Maynard said, traps may not be set within 200 feet of a public road or highway.
Luna isn't the only dog to get caught in traps in Southern Nevada in recent months. Residents of the Mount Charleston area regularly find traps near hiking trails, sometimes only after a family dog finds it first. Homeowners on lower Kyle Canyon Road also have reported their pets being trapped.
Given Southern Nevada's rapid growth toward the upper reaches of the Spring Mountains, it makes no sense to continue to allow trapping there. Given the state wildlife department's limited personnel, enforcing the laws on the books is no mean feat.
In Northern Nevada, the accidental trapping of family pets near well-traveled hiking trails has led to changes in the state regulation. Along the Tahoe Rim Trail, for instance, traps must be set at least 1,000 feet from the main path.
Setting a trap too close to a road is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of $50 to $500 plus court costs, NDOW Chief Game Warden Rob Buonamici said. Technically a violation can also result in up to six months in jail, but realistically that doesn't happen.
What happens when an especially egregious offender is, for instance, caught faking his residency requirement and trapping out of season?
Not very much if the case of Cole Steele is an accurate indicator. Steele was caught in Northern Nevada in possession of 106 bobcat pelts valued at approximately $38,000. The Santaquin, Utah, resident pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2007 and was fined $7,500, the Ely Times reported.
The investigation led by NDOW took three other government agencies and consumed "several hundred hours." In the case of the NDOW wardens, it's time they can ill afford to spend as they patrol areas the size of some states. The reality is, a lot of trapping violations won't be investigated.
Changing the rules for Southern Nevada doesn't need to go through the Legislature, Buonamici said. Residents can petition the Wildlife Commission.
"If we're experiencing problems, trapper conflicts with hikers, dog walkers, et cetera, that's definitely an option to look at," Buonamici said.
Trappers can argue that frontier tradition is on their side, their activity is regulated, and they help reduce populations of sometimes-diseased animals.
But I don't see a lot of trappers catching deer mice that carry hantavirus. They trap bobcats for the $300 pelt.
In 2008, trapping in Southern Nevada makes no sense.
Consider this my howl of protest.
Originally published on ReviewJournal.com.
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