ST. GEORGE – Southern Utah resident Scott Adams received an unwanted gift the morning after Christmas when, while walking his dogs along a familiar path at Quail Lake, his 40-pound corgi stepped into an illegally placed, spring- loaded trap – a common complaint received by Division of Wildlife Resources during bobcat trapping season.
Sandra Adams said her husband was walking their dogs along a well-worn path near the water’s edge of Quail Lake when Duke, their corgi, ran ahead, then started yelping.
“The trap had been concealed by being buried in sand and was secured by a chain to a nearby metal pipe,” she said. “My husband passes that area, on that path, often and had never seen the trap before. Scott was able to push the trap open and release Duke’s foot. There was recent blood and fur on the trap, not Duke’s. ”
For 10 years they have walked their dogs along the same path without incident, Sandra Adams said. They were astonished to learn that depending on the land zoning, the trap could’ve been placed near shallow water in a fishing area legally, because it was on the edge of territory managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
“The trap had its required numbered tag on it and was traced,” she said. “If it was found to have been placed illegally we agreed to prosecute.”
Duke’s injuries were minor, Sandra Adams said, a swollen paw and a sore hip from flailing around trying to free himself from the 6-inch rusted trap; but, she said, what concerned her the most was that anyone could fall victim to an inconsiderately placed trap.
More traps were discovered by law enforcement near the one that caught Duke.
“What if our dog had been a small human child, or a smaller dog?” she asked. “What if it snapped shut on a person who was hiking alone and had been unable to free themselves?”
Sandra Adams also said she was especially concerned about the threat of tetanus to a victim of a rusty trap.
Unwitting encounters with traps
This year’s trapping season began in November 2014 and ends Feb. 15. With the number of bobcat tags allowed per trapper doubling this year, Division of Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer Mark Ekins said, dog owners should be on the lookout for poorly located traps.
Until now, trappers could only “bag” up to three bobcats per season, but this year they can harvest as many as six bobcats, he said. That has led to a spike in trapping activity in unauthorized locations.
More than any other time of year, Ekins said, the DWR becomes flooded with complaints from dog owners whose pet had become caught in a furbearer’s trap during bobcat season.
“It’s always a dog,” he said. “And the reason for that is because of their nose, you know?”
Anyone whose dog gets caught in a trap should be careful when they approach their animal. A lot of times dogs will become more injured by trying to free themselves than they would by calming down and allowing their owner to release them.
“The first thing they should do is try to calm their dog down by talking softly to them and petting them,” he said. “Once the dog is calm there is a latch on the side of the trap that easily releases by stepping on it with the tip of their shoe.”
In his 10 years as a conservation officer, Ekins said, he couldn’t think of a single instance in which a human, including a child, had been caught in a trap.
Typically traps are set far away from where any person could set it off or tamper with it, he said, and there are strict rules about the type of traps that can be used, and how they must be prepared before placing them. Trapping is an expensive and time consuming activity; a trap set off with nothing to show for it is not usually an exciting prospect for a trapper.
Money for pelts
“Most of these guys are pretty good and ethical,” Ekins said. “What happens is … when bobcat season starts, well, there’s dollar bills out there in the air and a lot of these people say, ‘hey, that seems like some pretty easy money – go catch a couple of bobcats and make some money.’”
The trouble stems from uneducated trappers who don’t know the laws and see nothing but dollar signs. Many of them have very little experience trapping bobcats, Ekins said, but the demand for high-end pelts has drawn up to $1,200 overseas in the past year, opening doors for opportunists looking to cash in.
The chances of fetching that high of a dollar amount for the average bobcat fur harvested are very slim, said Kent Fowden, Utah Trapping Association president. The average bobcat fur sells for between $400 and $600.
“There’s kind of a misnomer for the prices,” Fowden said. “There’s always a few select pelts that will go really high, but people look at the highs, they don’t look at the low end or the average.”
There are a lot of factors that weigh in to the final price for each bobcat fur sold at market, Fowden said, but for the most part, trappers lose money on a pelt by the time it’s harvested. Once licensing, tags, gas, equipment, time, effort and skill are added into the equation, it becomes more of a labor of love than a moneymaking venture, he said.
“Say you catch an average bobcat at $450 for sale,” he said. “That cat probably cost the trapper close to $600 to harvest.”
Resurgence in trappers
The number of Utah Trapper Association members has skyrocketed from 400 to 1,400 in the past four years, Fowden said. The reason behind the trapping resurgence is a need to reconnect with the legacy of trapping in Utah built generations before for many of the association member’s ancestors, he said.
“Generally it’s (in) areas that their fathers trapped, or their grandfather trapped, and they took them in their youth,” he said. “And so they like to go back and explore and redo what their grandpa did, and what’s been passed on for generations.”
Though the number of members has risen exponentially, Fowden said, the number of bobcats harvested each year has stayed at a fairly even keel.
Guidelines and restrictions
The “2014-2015 Utah Furbearer Guidebook” establishes guidelines for trapping everything from ferrets to bobcats – including dates, license requirements, how traps should be set and where they should be placed, what kind of bait to use and how to avoid accidentally trapping the wrong animal.
According to the guidebook, “Hunting and trapping any wildlife is prohibited within the boundaries of all state park areas, except those designated open to hunting by the Division of Parks and Recreation under Utah Admin. Rule R651-614-4.”
The trap that caught the Adams’ dog at Quail Creek State Park was not allowed to be placed where it was, Sand Hollow Corporate and Gunlock State Park Manager Laura Melling said. Technically, it was on BLM land, but there is currently a management agreement that places the care of the land under the jurisdiction of the state park.
“The reason we don’t allow it is because it’s a recreation area and we don’t want anybody or their pets injured in any way,” Melling said. “The only person who can give permission is me, and I have not done so.”
“It’s not just a verbal permission either, I would have to write them a permit to do it,” she said.
The traps that were found as a result of the Adams’ unfortunate encounter were all placed illegally, Melling said, and citations have been issued to the registered owner of the traps.
“This area falls under several different regulations and there was no permission for him to have been trapping there at all,” Melling said. “We removed the traps and we did issue a citation and it will go to court.”
If anyone encounters a trap that is in a questionable place, they should inform authorities, Ekins said. Laws are in place to protect trappers and setting off traps or removing them from where they were found could result in legal action against the well-meaning citizen.
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