I am a frequent user of the ski trails at Chimney Park, along Highway 230 in the Medicine Bow National Forest. It is a popular area this season, as is the case with many outdoor recreation areas in this year of COVID-19.
On those trails I typically ski with my young Australian shepherd, Dobby, and let him off leash when humans, dogs or wildlife are nowhere to be seen. He stays close, but these days I never let him out of my sight. I am on alert to a new kind of hazard that I never considered before: traps set near the trails. Trappers set them to catch furbearers and wildlife classified as predators in spite of being in popular recreation areas.
About six weeks ago another Laramie woman skied with her dog on those trails. A short distance from the trailhead, she heard a sound unlike any other. To her horror, her dog was entangled in a leg-hold trap. It took an excruciatingly long time to get the bloodied dog free. Luckily, following an emergency trip to the vet, the dog had no broken bones or other significant injuries, but it had obviously been terrified.
Laramie resident, Ed Koncel, wasn’t as lucky with his dog, Poppy. He was on one of his daily walks on Pole Mountain with his dog, a 44 pound lab-mix.
“It was snowing and quite windy,” Koncel recalled. “Through the wind, there was a sound unlike any I ever heard before.”
That sound came from his dog, in intense pain and fear after being caught in a trap. Koncel managed to get his dog free and carried her through the storm for a mile and a half to return to his vehicle. As it turned out, Poppy had a broken bone in her foot and spent the next six weeks in a cast from her foot to her shoulder.
Since November 2020, six dogs have been entangled in traps in popular recreation areas in southeast Wyoming. Three have been in the Vedauwoo area, one along Crow Creek in Laramie County, one near the entrance to Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the one at Chimney Park. In all cases, the owners had no idea trapping was being done in the area.
Similar reports from around the state resulted in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department holding numerous public meetings to hear all sides of the issue from recreationists, landowners, ranchers and trappers.
To the Department’s credit, they put in significant effort to consider modifications to existing trapping regulations. They came up with two recommendations that were approved by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and needed legislative action to proceed. They went to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee for consideration to move forward with legislation.
The first item was mandatory trapper education since, currently, there are only guidelines that trappers may or may not follow. They don’t even need to read them to get a permit. The second item allows the Commission to establish trapping setbacks in areas with a high potential for conflict between trappers and non-trappers. Examples included developed campgrounds, boat ramps, picnic areas and trail heads. These setbacks would be established on a case-by-case basis.
At the Dec. 8, 2020 hearing via Zoom, the legislators heard from a number of Wyoming residents. Those giving testimony included several Laramie residents, including Koncel.
Once all testimony was heard, Senator Ogden Driskill, committee chairman, veered off into a diatribe on dogs and their impact on wildlife. Instead of considering the actual issues being discussed, he voiced his complaints about dogs in general.
“These people,” Driskill said, referring to those who hike, ski, or otherwise enjoy trails on Wyoming public lands with their pets. He trailed off into an oration on how wildlife avoids areas of high use, especially where dogs are allowed. He stated that dogs are not permitted in National Parks due to the impact they might have on wildlife.
As a dog owner, I realize having my dog join me is not always appropriate; at those times I leave him at home. I certainly wouldn’t take him on a hike in Yellowstone National Park. Even on public lands, I avoid areas where livestock are grazing since I’m not sure how Dobby will react, being a year and half old.
The same should be true of trapping; it is not always an appropriate use in an area. Having traps set along high use trails, near campgrounds where even children could get entangled in them, and especially when people have no idea such activity is occurring, seems an incompatible use. The traps are hidden, yet can be a lethal weapon to a pet that may be no more than a few feet off the trail, well in sight of their owner.
I guess I am one of “these people” as Driskill describes us. His implication at the hearing was that the opinions of those who support the legislation don’t carry the same weight as the trappers. Surely there is room for some common sense approach instead of just ignoring the issue and railing about dogs as a way to avoid the discussion. Surely there is a better way forward.