The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is planning some changes to trapping rules in the state, which has reform advocates feeling encouraged while also hoping for more change.
“It’s progress. I call it a smidgen of progress,” said Lisa Robertson, who leads a statewide group called Wyoming Untrapped.
Wyoming Untrapped is one of the groups that has been pushing for updates to the state’s trapping regulations and statutes during the last few years. Robertson started the group about five years ago in response to pets getting injured or killed by traps.
In November, the commission directed the Game and Fish Department to draft two new regulations. One would restrict trapping during hunting season where Game and Fish releases pheasants, and the other would limit the use of large power snares.
Both draft regulations will go through a public comment period this spring before coming to the commission for consideration next summer.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is a citizen board whose members are appointed by the governor. They set department policy and supervise the Game and Fish director.
The commission then directed Game and Fish to ask the Wyoming Legislature for statutory authority to put trapping setbacks in place around high-use public lands on a case-by-case basis. The commission also needs permission from the Legislature to require mandatory trapper education.
In mid-December, Game and Fish presented its requests to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee for implementation authority on those two issues, but the committee declined to take any action.
Game and Fish has plans to begin posting signs this month on Wildlife Habitat Management Areas that will notify the public where trapping is taking place. WHMAs are owned by the commission and managed for critical wildlife habitat while allowing hunting, fishing, trapping, camping and other recreational activities.
Pete Dube, the president of the commission, who is from Buffalo, said the commission supports recommendations to increase public awareness and understanding of trapping.
“Trapping is an important part of the Wyoming heritage,” he said. “It’s a right guaranteed to the state’s citizens through the constitution of the state of Wyoming.”
The interest of the Game and Fish Department in taking a closer look at its trapping rules was driven by two petitions brought to the commission several years ago. In response to the petitions, the commission formed a working group to examine the issue more closely. The group gathered input from conservation groups, government agencies, dog owners, trappers, public lands groups, veterinarians and others. They also reviewed public comments on trapping rules and reviewed the history of changes.
Following that effort, Game and Fish hosted a series of public meetings last fall to listen to the public about trapping before finally presenting recommendations to the commission.
According to Jason Hunter, wildlife supervisor for the Lander Region who is leading the Game and Fish work, trapping regulations were last adjusted in 2019, while the most recent statute changes date back to 2012.
Rick King, the department’s chief of wildlife, said Game and Fish is committed to a collaborative approach to concerns regarding trapping.
“That includes increasing our efforts to enhance public awareness and understanding of trapping, as well as continuing conversations about the issues associated with trapping on public lands,” he said.
Robertson said she was disappointed that neither of the requests put before the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee even mustered a vote.
“Wyoming likes to treat their animals any way they want to anytime they want to,” she said. “That’s just a fact.”
An individual legislator could potentially take up the issue during the coming session, which isn’t likely, while the committee itself will next meet after the session.
Meanwhile, Wyoming Untrapped is ramping up its outreach efforts by putting up billboards in Cheyenne and elsewhere and networking with like-minded residents in each county.
Among the main issues for trapping reform advocates is establishing trap-free areas on popular recreation areas, or at least mandatory setbacks on high-use trails and public lands.
“We want at decision made this summer that will give us freedom to roam,” Robertson said. “These are public lands and we all use them. We don’t want hidden hazards out there.”
Wyoming Untrapped tracks incidents of dogs and non-target wildlife getting caught in both legal and illegal traps. In southeast Wyoming, incidents were reported at Vedauwoo, Chimney Park and Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the last few weeks.
On Dec. 20 at Chimney Park, a 60-pound dog named Shia got caught in a leg-hold trap set at the end of a log near a trail and not far from the trailhead. Chimney Park is located on the Medicine Bow National Forest about 30 miles west of Laramie and is a popular Nordic skiing destination. According to the report, the bleeding, howling dog was caught for almost five minutes while her owner tried to free her. A veterinarian later reported no substantial injuries.
Robertson said Gov. Mark Gordon is expected to fill two vacancies on the Game and Fish Commission this spring, which could change the way the commission approaches trapping. Advocates plan to continue meeting with Game and Fish to discuss possible changes.
“The West is changing very quickly and it’s going to continue to change,” she said. “Nobody wants big crowds out there, but we all want places to go.”