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Traps and Pets

JOSEPH — On Feb. 24, Sharon Nall of Joseph was fined and sentenced to 40 hours of community service. Her crime is described as a “wildlife violation,’’ which she admits she committed on Dec. 18 as she and her husband, Larry, and their black Labrador retriever enjoyed a day of skiing on Hurricane Creek Road about two miles from Joseph.

Their dog ran off the snow-bound road to explore in the trees and underbrush and was caught in a leg-hold trap intended for wild furbearing animals, probably a bobcat.

Sharon and Larry were able to free their dog from the trap and he was not seriously injured. Sharon said she was very frightened and angry about the incident and felt impelled to speak to whomever had set the trap and sprayed scent around the site to attract animals to it. She removed the trap and disturbed the site, thereby violating the law.

The Oregon Furbearer Trapping and Hunting Regulations states that it is unlawful for any person to use or possess the branded traps or snares of another unless in possession of written permission from the person to whom the brand is registered.

“I didn’t know it was against the law to remove a trap from the site. But I felt it was important to find out who set this trap and to have a conversation with them about setting traps in high-use areas,” Sharon said.

She said she took the trap home, called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and talked to Oregon State Police Officer Kreg Coggins. She told him she had the trap and asked if she could find out whose it was. Coggins came to her house and issued her a citation and told her she was not allowed to know the name of the trapper.

On Oct. 31, 2008, a registered Labrador pup belonging to Pete Kirkman was caught in a leg-hold trap on private property on Alder Slope, southwest of Enterprise. Kirkman, who is disabled, heard the dog yelping and went in search of him. He found the dog near a creek three-fourths of a mile from his house. The dog was caught in a Victor No.3 long-spring trap. Kirkman freed his pet and removed the trap from the site. He also notified authorities of his actions. He has been fined and charged with creating a public nuisance since the dog was on private property. Kirkman has obtained an attorney and intends to take his case to court.

Kirkman, who is 71 years old, said he is particularly unhappy with the manner in which he has been treated for this violation of wildlife law. He is not allowed to leave the state and must receive special dispensation to take his wife to doctor appointments in Lewiston.

The government trapper, Marlyn Riggs of Enterprise, who owned the trap, said he could not and would not comment on the situation, nor could he answer any general questions about trapping regulations and practices in Wallowa County.

The Oregon Furbearers Trapping and Hunting Regulations says that trapping is legal in national forests, public lands, land owned by state forestry and ODFW. Trapping is not allowed in state parks. No trapping of beaver or river otter is allowed in the Hurricane Creek area; neither is it allowed on the Wallowa River above Wallowa Lake, on the Lostine River or Bear Creek areas. The trapping of beaver and river otter is allowed in other areas from Nov. 15 to March 15.

The species most sought in those areas are bobcat and mink, according to ODFW staff. Red fox and coyotes can be trapped in all areas year-round in Wallowa County. It is legal to trap beaver, bobcat, gray and red fox, pine marten, mink, muskrat, otter, raccoon, badger, coyote, nutria, opossum and spotted and striped skunks in Oregon.

Oregon has no regulations stipulating how far from public roads, paths and trails traps can be set. There is no requirement to post signs where traps are set. Occurrences of accidental trapping of dogs are not unusual and there is no penalty for trapping a pet, even if it is killed. It is impossible to know how many dogs or other non-target animals have been captured or killed since no reporting of those incidences is required.

ODFW statistics show 15 licenses to trap were issued in Wallowa County in 2007-08. A total of 152 animals were reported trapped in 2007-08. Hunters or trappers of furbearing or unprotected mammals who have a furtaker’s license or hunting license are required to fill out and return a harvest report form to the ODFW by April 15 each year so statistics for 2008-2009 are still incomplete.

There is no limit on the number of traps any one trapper can use, but Oregon Furbearer Trapping regulations state that all traps or snares must be inspected at least every 48 hours and all trapped animals removed. However, the Oregon State Police does not have the manpower to monitor all the traps set in Wallowa County at any given time. According to ODFW staff, investigations are carried out only if a problem is reported.

Any person setting a trap for predatory animals, like coyotes, or for feral swine or rabbits, according to the regulations document, need only check the trap every 30 days if a killing trap is used, since, presumably, the trapped animal is killed instantly upon springing the trap. If a restraining trap, like a leg-hold trap, is used, they must be checked every 76 hours. One reason why predator traps may not be required to be checked as frequently is that more of these traps are set to increase the likelihood of capture and can’t logistically be monitored as frequently.

Increased use of public lands has led to conflicts between hikers, skiers, campers and trappers when pets, usually dogs, are caught and sometimes injured in traps. Many people are surprised to find traps along trails and streams in areas described as “high use” areas such as the Hurricane Creek Road, McCully Basin or the Promise area.

To be sure dogs are not injured they should be kept on a leash or kept close to the road or trail. There are no restrictions as to distance from trails or roads for traps to be set and no requirement for trappers to mark areas where traps are set.

Trappers don’t usually set traps in places where they might be easily disturbed. It takes up to an hour to prepare the site of the trap and if a hiker springs the trap inadvertently this is a waste of time for the trapper. In addition, wildlife is scarce in high-useareas and the chances of capture are reduced. However, non-targeted species are caught and injured, sometimes killed. This, along with the feeling that trapping of any animals, intended or not, is an inhumane practice has caused the formation of citizen groups throughout the West to restrict or eliminate trapping.

There are two main types of traps used to capture furbearing animals.

One is the foot-hold trap, which is designed to snap shut on the leg of an animal when it is tripped and hold it there until the trapper comes back. The animal is then killed and skinned, and the pelt prepared for market or use by the trapper. This type of trap comes in different sizes depending on the species targeted for capture. The edges of the trap can no longer have sharpened points; some are padded with rubber to lessen impact and injury. The jaw spread can be no greater than 9 inches and must have a jaw spacing of at least 3/16s of an inch when the trap is sprung, according to the regulation booklet.

The leg or foot-hold trap generally does not cause serious injury but can cause damage through loss of circulation and tissue damage. If traps are not checked regularly, animals can die of exposure or dehydration. Animals struggling to escape sometimes suffer broken teeth or jaw injury from chewing on the trap.

A killing trap, sometimes called a conibear or body grip trap, is placed in runways and over burrow holes allowing an animal to pass through it and trigger the trap. They have a square frame with rotating jaws; larger versions have two springs. The trigger is positioned inside the frame; when sprung, the frame is released and strikes the animal, breaking the neck. Sometimes the captured animal is strangled.

Body grip traps come in sizes varying from a 4.5- by 4.5-inch opening for squirrels or mink to a 10- by 10-inch opening for beaver or otter. This size of trap is legal only underwater in most states and is illegal in Oregon. The largest body grip trap that can be used in Oregon has a 9- by 9-inch opening. These are dangerous traps and even the 7- by 7-inch size is recommended by the manufacturer to be used outside of areas where children and pets are present.

According to the ODFW “Trapping in Oregon’’ publication, trapping is one method used to manage furbearer populations and provide recreational activity for the public.

Regulated trapping is critical to ensure the health and well being of furbearer populations in Oregon, the publication states. In addition, trapping reduces damage to crops, livestock and property.

Mike Hanson, a wildlife biologist with ODFW in Wallowa County, says that trappers are a valuable resource in collecting information about wildlife such as age and condition of populations through the annual report forms they are required to complete each year. Trapping license fees, tag fees and special taxes paid by trappers are used to create a fund to protect wildlife habitat and populations.

Trapping in Oregon and Wallowa County has deep historical and traditional roots. It was once a full-time occupation for many people and grew out of the demand for furs from Europe and the bountiful supply of furs in North America. Since sometime in the 1930s, controversy has grown regarding trapping methods, killing of wildlife for monetary gain and inhumane practices described as “sustained yield management.” Trap Free Oregon, an organization seeking to ban trapping, has stated, “ODFW staff defend trapping as a long established and traditional practice, regardless of its ethics and morality.”

Among the most abhorrent of trapping practices to the animal rights proponents are the suffering of animals caught in leg-hold traps for long hours or days. The manner in which the captured animals are finally killed, by club or suffocation, is cruel and inhumane, according to Trap Free Oregon’s statements.

Jim Soares, a trapper and resident of Wallowa, has been trapping for years along the Wallowa River and nearby areas. It is mostly a recreational pursuit —  something he enjoys doing with his son. He contends that most trappers use common sense when setting their traps and needless injury and damage is avoided when the appropriate equipment is used in the correct manner. He will be participating in the spring class offering of the WREN program, an educational opportunity for youth in Wallowa County, to increase knowledge of small mammals’ history and habitats. The class will provide information about trapping, including what to do if a pet is caught in a trap.

According to Penny Arentsen, one of the organizers of the WREN Program, “We are empowering youth with the knowledge that traps are around and how to deal with them if an animal is caught is all part of education.”

Soares said trapping is a valuable practice in controlling some species that become pests under certain conditions. He says he doesn’t know anyone who uses inhumane methods of killing captured animals and the easiest and quickest way is to shoot them.

Cattlemen have asked him to trap coyotes to decrease damage to livestock. Stock dogs are sometimes caught in the leg-hold traps. Soares said that rarely do they suffer even minor injury.

According to veterinary records from the Red Barn Vet Clinic and the Double Arrow Clinic, only two to three dogs have been treated at each clinic for wounds from leg-hold traps in the last year.

But Sharon Nall and Pete Kirkman’s dogs were both accidentally trapped in 2008. Both dogs were fortunate because they were discovered and freed quickly.

If a pet is caught in a trap, Oregon State Police recommend that every effort be made to free the animal without disturbing the site. It is illegal to move or take the trap from the site. It is also recommended that a report be filed with OSP if a pet is caught so that an inspection can be made and adherence to trapping regulations evaluated.

Information on what dog owners need to know about legal trapping in Oregon can be accessed through the following website: www.http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/docs/dogs_and_trapping.pdf.


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