Beaver trapping

Hoback resident John Branca walks with a beaver he trapped in April 1986. Efforts to reform the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s trapping regulations have run up against jurisdictional issues that require action from the Wyoming Legislature.

Efforts to modernize the state of Wyoming’s trapping regulations to cut down on conflicts with recreating people and pets have again hit a stumbling block.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee showed no interest while meeting this week to craft a bill that would enable reforms supported by trappers themselves and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which requested the legislation.

Specifically, the state agency sought some jurisdiction over trapping of coyote, red fox and other species classified as “predators” under Wyoming law so that wildlife managers would have the option of closing certain high-use areas where conflicts with traps are likely. Separately, Game and Fish requested legislation that would allow for required education courses for young people taking up the pursuit of furbearer trapping.

Instead of discussing how to legislate such reforms, the state senators and representatives who met virtually Tuesday spun off into a conversation about putting the onus on dog owners. Several committee members talked of the need for regulations requiring that dogs be leashed to keep them out of traps and diminish their impacts on wildlife.

“There’s a circle around every new house that has a dog that has no turkey, no deer, no elk around it,” Sen. Ogden Driskill, a Devils Tower Republican, told his fellow lawmakers. “I don’t want to be a Grinch, but we should be designating areas that are open and free for the dogs, but probably the majority of them ought to be just like trails on the Forest Service — they’re considered closed to them unless marked open.”

Driskill, who chairs the joint committee, asked if any member wanted to bring forth a bill of any kind in response to Game and Fish’s request.

The 17 sitting and elected-but-not-yet-seated senators and representatives in attendance met him with silence.

The joint committee’s inaction does not mean the recommended changes sought by wildlife managers are totally dead. When the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee reconvenes for the next legislative session its makeup will be substantially reconstituted, Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton pointed out, and a prospective bill could again be considered.

The tweaks to state statute requested by Game and Fish were the product of a lengthy public input and review process that included a survey and public meetings that informed policy recommendations that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission then endorsed.

Wyoming’s wildlife agency initiated its trapping regulation review at the urging of two advocacy groups: Wyoming Untrapped and WY Trap Free-Mont County. Both groups got off the ground in response to incidents that injured or killed people’s dogs. Representatives for both groups spoke in support of the reforms Tuesday, with Jackson Hole resident Lisa Robertson pointing out that Wyoming’s landscape is changing, attracting more people and creating more chances for conflict and tragedy.

“The West is getting very busy,” Wyoming Untrapped’s founder said. “It’s not something we’re excited about — and I know you aren’t — but it’s changing.”

Game and Fish already has the authority to enact other reforms that had traction with the public: increased education, organizing pet release and non-trapper education workshops, and creating seasonal trapping closures on lands administered by the state wildlife agency. But off Game and Fish property, it lacks jurisdiction to regulate trapping of predatory animals, which are species that can be killed without limit in Wyoming. They include coyote, jackrabbit, porcupine, raccoon, red fox, skunk, stray cat and gray wolves in about 85% of the state.

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik emphasized to legislators that his staff would be judicious about where to limit trapping. Federal lands with lots of livestock, like the “checkerboard” landscape along the Interstate 80 corridor that’s a blend of private land, would be an example of a place where trap-free areas are not needed or prudent, he said.

“But then take a place like Snow King Mountain in Jackson, that has extremely high use,” Nesvik said.

The Game and Fish director said his staff would consider trapping setbacks in a place like that, where they don’t currently have the authority to create them for predator trapping.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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