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Pets Stuck In Wildlife Traps A Concern Of Trapping Expansion & Idaho Growth

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Idaho Department of Fish & Game
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Photos of common wildlife traps shown in an Idaho Fish and Game brochure on protecting pets from hunting traps.

The potential expansion of wolf trapping into Blaine County — where it has never been allowed before — has drawn criticism from local officials and concerns about an increase in pet injuries in the highly-recreated area.

Even now, Wood River Valley residents don’t need to travel far to reach legal wolf trapping ground, as State Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, who represents the area, did in January.

“We were about four miles from my truck when my dog made a hideous screech,” she said. “I knew immediately he must have gotten into something. We were right on the side of the road. It was a white trap in white snow.”

Her dog, a golden retriever, had its leg clamped in a ‘No BS Extreme Wolf Trap,’ Stennett said. In its pannicked state, Stennett's dog bit her, dislocating her thumb, as she initially tried to free him.

“We applied all our weight on it, we couldn't get it to budge,” Stennett explained. Her friends trekked the four miles back to the truck and she stayed with her dog.

”Miraculously, a couple of men — larger men — showed up,” she said. “Their combined weight, probably around 400 pounds, was able to put enough pressure on the levers for me to get the dog's leg out.”

Stennett’s dog escaped serious injury, but she has vet and medical bills from the incident.

The trap was illegally placed near the road, Stennett said. Idaho law requires traps to be at least 10 feet from the edge of any road or trail. She claims the trap was also missing its required identification: either the name and address of the owner, or a unique number assigned by Fish and Game.

“It's a place where people recreate frequently, where people go and get their Christmas trees with their kids, where people do snowshoeing and backcountry skiing and fishing and hiking.”

Stennett said she couldn’t take the trap out of the frozen ground. Even if she had, Idaho code prohibits removing, tampering or damaging a trap. There are no exceptions written into the law, but Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillip said someone saving their pet from a trap isn’t in any legal jeopardy.

“Our conservation officers have the discretion of whether to issue a citation or not. And in a situation like that, it would be highly unlikely,” he said.

Stennett said she felt put on the defensive when sharing her experience with Fish and Game.

“There's just nothing in place to protect the public," she said. "I was told that because I didn't have the trap — which I would have been criminalized if I had — that it was my word against whomever set the trap and therefore they were going to believe the trapper.”

She said the department responded to her concerns by saying they would look into what they could do to inform the public.

Phillip referred to a https://youtu.be/1gbrWIKqcUk" target="_blank">video on the Fish and Game website as a ‘know before you go’ resource for removing pets stuck in wildlife traps.

“Most of the traps that I'm aware of and that I have any experience with,” Phillip said, “a person typically would be able to remove a pet from that.”

When it released the video in 2014, Fish and Game wrote it had noticed an increase in reported pet encounters with wildlife traps from two in 2000 to 32 in 2013.

Stennett sits on the senate Resources and Environment Committee, and shared her experience during a confirmation hearing of incoming Fish and Game commissioners January 27. Incoming commissioner Gregory Cameron of Rupert said the Commission could do a better job educating the public.

Two years ago, the required distance traps could be placed from roads and trails increased from five feet from the center of the path to 10 feet from the edge. In 2020, Fish and Game Commissioners denied a petition to increase that distance to 25 feet and require posted signs in the area of placed traps.

Conservation officers are good at their jobs, Phillip said. They will pursue owners of illegally placed or unlabeled traps and cite offenders. If wolf trapping is allowed in Blaine County, enforcement will be folded into the workload of the existing staff.

“Trapping in Idaho and elsewhere in the country is strictly enforced and regulated,” he said. "And there is already trapping in those areas [game units 48 and 49, primarily in Blaine County]. It just doesn't happen to be wolf trapping.”

Since sharing her story, Stennett has heard from other pet owners with similar experiences near Ketchum and in the Boise foothills. She thinks wolf trapping will bring larger and stronger traps to an increasingly-congested recreational area. During committee testimony, she told commissioners they needed to do a better job educating and notifying the public about areas where traps and recreational activities mix.

“You're going to get sued,” she told Fish and Game Commissioners. “People are going to get hurt. But this is what's going to happen as we become a more populated state with people who don't know about traps and there is no signage out there.”

Idaho Fish & Game opened a public comment period on possible rule changes to wolf trapping in Idaho Feb. 8, with comments accepted through the night of Feb 25.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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