Some furbearer traps can afford pet owners plenty of time, others just a few minutes.
A conference room full of onlookers gasped at the sharp, loud snap of the 330-Conibear trap setting on the upper torso of a stuffed hound dog.
The percussion of the fast-closing body gripping-style trap was serious, a violence customary for a device that’s often used to capture beavers underwater. Carter Niemeyer, a veteran federal wildlife professional who was simulating the accidental capture, emphasized the importance of taking fast action were a real dog to be in the same set of circumstances.
“Unless you’re herculean in strength, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting these to compress,” Niemeyer said at the Saturday gathering. “And if you’ve got a small dog, all bets are off what kind of shape they’ll be in just from the concussion.”
The tall, longtime trapper from Idaho, who was integral to gathering and transporting the Canadian wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone a quarter century ago, wielded a “safety gripper,” also known as a “set tool,” capable of disarming a Conibear, a device that cannot be undone intuitively.
“For speed, effectiveness and the best outcome, I would want one of these right here,” he told the crowd. “If I were God or Solomon, I would not allow this on dry land.”
Niemeyer spoke at the Teton County Library, where the advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped was holding its latest trap safety workshop. Over the years the group has convened more than a dozen such gatherings in Jackson, but also in places like Laramie, Lander, Casper, Cody, Pinedale, Rock Springs and Dubois. This past weekend’s was the best-attended yet, said Wyoming Untrapped founder Lisa Robertson, who surmised the packed room was the result of a rash of recent accidental pet trappings on the west slope of the Tetons.
“There were three incidents: one in Darby Canyon, one in Victor and one in Tetonia,” Robertson said. “All three of those dogs were taken to a vet.”
Not just in the West, but all around the country, trappers regularly encounter “non-target” wildlife in their sets. Occasionally that bycatch is pets, and as a result it’s the public, and not the trapper, who must have the skill and calm to operate devices to release their animal.
Accounting of such incidents is imprecise, and in states like Wyoming reporting of non-target species like domestic dogs is not required. There are sometimes fatal outcomes that turn into high-profile incidents, but more often dogs are caught and released unscathed or with some injuries.
Foot-hold traps, the most common for dryland furbearing species, can be left out on the landscape for up to 72 hours before they must be legally checked. Quick-kill devices like Conibears can be set without checking for up to a week.
Jackson Hole resident and regular fur trapper Mike Beres said he’s never caught a dog in 20 years of trapping in the valley. Still, he agreed with educating pet owners and the goals of the Wyoming Untrapped workshop, an event he’s attended in the past.
“The best thing you can do for your dog,” Beres said in a phone interview, “is know how to get your dog out of a trap.”
Discussion at the Wyoming Untrapped workshop turned toward regulations meant to prevent non-target trappings. Most who spoke perceived the rules to be horribly lacking, and too deferential to a historically significant outdoor pursuit that nowadays is practiced by relatively few.
“If you don’t like what’s going on, change it,” said Niemeyer, who no longer recreationally traps. “It can be done.
“You far outnumber the people who are enjoying the privilege,” he said, “I’ll tell you that.”
Beres resists more regulation, like trap-free setbacks along trails.
“The dog that gets trapped and released doesn’t make the news, but the dog that got caught when there wasn’t an owner around and killed in a snare does,” he said. “Whose fault is that? Is it the trapper that set the legal snare? Or was it the dog owner who wasn’t around?”
At the workshop Niemeyer stressed how some areas can be minefields of traps. In his 32 years as a federal trapper, he personally caught five dogs. Nowadays he no longer lets his two poodles run off-leash on public lands. If pet owners aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, he advised talking with game wardens to get a better idea of where traplines are set out, and carrying specialized tools such as the safety gripper or wire cutters.
“You’re never going to know if they’re out there,” Niemeyer said.