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SALT LAKE CITY -- Hearings being held around the state pose a stark question: How long should an animal be allowed to suffer with its leg caught in a trap? A bitterly contested proposal to change the law pits some trappers and hunters against those who think extended suffering is barbaric.Leghold traps are frequently used by trappers to capture coyotes. When an animal steps on the trap's release plate, powerful springs force two metal bars together, clamping firmly onto the animal's leg.
Utah law requires trappers to check their traps every two days to see if an animal has been caught. Now the Utah Wildlife Board is considering a proposal to require monitoring only once every seven days, an idea labeled "unethical" in a statement issued by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
A hunting group called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife supports the seven day timeframe. The group's founder, Don Peay, said he would settle for a four day requirement but the two day rule now in effect makes it hard for coyote trappers to do the job effectively.
Trappers typically engage in the activity part-time, and Peay said it's not practical for them to travel long distances every two days to check on traps in remote areas. As a result, the two day rule discourages an effective coyote control effort.
The proposal: To change the trap check rule from 48 hours to 7 days for coyotes. -Utah Div. of Wildlife Resources
"There's too many coyotes," Peay said. "They're dramatically reducing the deer population. So somehow there's got to be an additional solution."
Critics say the change would be cruel to coyotes and other animals that get caught in the traps.
"There's pain and suffering and they can die of thirst or starvation while waiting to be freed from the trap," said Allison Jones, conservation biologist for the Wild Utah Project. "Frankly we were surprised that the wildlife board would consider such an inhumane proposal."
Peay argues that coyotes inflict devastating effects on ranchers by killing livestock and deliver a steady blow to the hunting industry by killing young deer.
"I've watched a pack of coyotes kill a fawn, and I'm going to side with the baby deer on this one," Peay said. "You know, if you really look out for animal rights and you care about Bambi, you don't want coyotes around. So, yeah! We'll take the side of protecting Bambi and shooting coyotes."DWR officials acknowledged that coyote predation is a factor in limiting the size of deer herds, but they disputed some of Peay's claims. For example, Peay said mule deer populations in Utah have dropped from 600,000 to 275,000 in the last 10 years. Anis Aoude of the DWR cited estimates showing a much more modest decline, from 340,000 to 302,000 since 1992. Peay claims more than half the decline is attributable to coyotes. Aoude cites studies from previous decades that put the figure well below 50 percent.
Another reason DWR opposes the new rule is because of possible unintended consequences. Traps sometimes catch unwanted animals. DWR officials are concerned that protected species, such as bobcats, kit foxes and gray foxes, will be caught in traps and held for long periods.
That's what happened to a family pet nearly six years ago. Jeff Barker's dog named Tank disappeared from the family home in Payson in January 2005. After 22 days, a family member found Tank with his leg cinched in a coyote snare trap. He had suffered through three weeks of winter weather, including two snowstorms. Tank ultimately had to have his injured leg amputated.
Tuesday, Dec. 14
Provo City Council Chambers
351 W. Center St.Northern Region
Wednesday, Dec. 15
Brigham City Community Center
24 N. 300 W.
"Had this trap been being monitored, the outcome could have been much different," Barker said. "I hunt and I fish and I used to trap. I feel that traps and snares do need to be monitored often."
The seven day proposal is not going over well, even with hunters. At three public hearings last week it was voted down three times, twice unanimously, by hunter-dominated regional advisory councils. The last two regional hearings are tomorrow in Provo and Wednesday in Brigham City.