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Fur will fly if activists take on trapping

Nevada’s feral dogs and alley cats have no shortage of friends. Heaven help you if you’re caught abusing a lowly canine or hungry feline.

The state’s wild horse population has a vocal and politically active posse of supporters. Try to force the horses from the free range and watch the fireworks begin.

With so many unabashed animal rights activists in Nevada, it’s a wonder the issue of trapping in the 21st century isn’t more controversial.

You’re forgiven for not knowing it still existed. Most of us probably believe it went out with the taming of the frontier, flintlock rifles and coonskin caps. Not so.

The state’s trapping season is brief, largely self-regulated and fiercely protected by its practitioners and allies at the Legislature. The fact that in 2014 trappers still have allies at the Legislature surely says something about the amount of free time our elected officials have in Carson City.

Trappers sometimes conflate their activity, which is a moneymaker and a tradition in some families, with the Second Amendment. Although it obviously has nothing to do with the right to keep and bear arms, you’d be surprised how patriotic some trappers sound when they talk about their God-given right to catch coyotes, bobcats and other varmints.

The trouble for trappers in a state with a population that gradually stretches into previously rural areas is that their traps aren’t at all particular about what animal they catch. Coyotes and bobcats, but also neighbor dogs and cats and occasionally majestic creatures such as golden eagles.

Such collateral damage, technically called “nontarget” animals, is all part of the reality of trapping. And trappers are asked by state officials to self-report everything that winds up in the iron jaws of those traps.

That’s why, critics contend, any numbers reported by the trappers are likely extremely conservative compared with the damage wrought to pets and wildlife.

The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners has a trapping committee that, at least in theory, is designed to discuss issues pertaining to the activity. Some of those same critics suggest it’s traditionally been a rubber stamp of support for the trappers.

Now those trappers and their friends at the state have drawn a small but growing number of critics. Some are opposed on philosophical grounds. Others are ticked off because their pets have been maimed or killed by traps set close to hiking trails and heavily traveled areas around Mount Charleston.

Available information on nontarget animal injuries and deaths gathered for several years shows 5,138 critters caught. Although many of them were rabbits, nearly 200 domestic dogs also were injured or killed in that time. Not to mention nine golden eagles.

Obviously, some of the trappers’ biggest critics are opposed to their activity at any level. Others, however, are angry because despite all the wide-open spaces in Nevada some trappers take the path of least resistance and set their snares close to populated rural areas.

One way to help ensure unintended animals that get trapped survive capture is to decrease the time between visits by trappers. Although it’s politically unpopular with rural legislators, it also makes sense to discontinue trapping in areas frequented by humans and their pets.

Take the Spring Mountains, for instance.

Trapping critic and Lee Canyon resident Stephanie Myers in a recent letter to the state commission wrote, “The entire area of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area should have a 24-hour limit for trap visitation. The entire area is only a short distance from Las Vegas, so these traps could and should be visited, as any businessperson would visit the site of his/her commercial activity, every day.” With approximately 2 million visitors to the Spring Mountains each year, she adds, “if that is not ‘heavily used,’ then I don’t know what is.”

The commission is set to consider the trapping issue, and so far it’s been lucky. Nevada’s sizable army of animal rights hasn’t taken trapping on as a cause yet.

If that changes, well, then just watch the fur fly.

John L. Smith’s columns also appear Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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