Fur trapping is alive and well in Southern Oregon

I conducted an informal poll and discovered that many folks are not aware that trapping still exists in Southern Oregon. Until recently, I was unaware as well. Like many, I thought it had gone the way of the musket and stagecoach. But trapping has hit the media lately and an informed public is organizing against it.

Last August, in Gresham, a family dog named Maggie died in a trap set by Wildlife Services, the government agency that traps year-round. The trap had been set to catch nutria in a pond only 45 feet from the family's backyard. In February, the dog of a Bend veterinarian was caught in a leg-hold trap. The vet rushed her dog to the clinic, where she put it under anesthesia and pried off the trap. At least five dogs have been trapped in the Bend area so far this year.

Dogs are important to many of us in the Rogue Valley, and thoughts of them becoming trapped are frightening. While researching this article I asked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife if traps are set in local areas frequented by dogs, including Grizzly Peak, the watershed above Ashland, and Emigrant Lake. Timothy L. Hiller, ODFW Carnivore-Furbearer Coordinator, who identifies himself as a trapper, responded with, "We do not require trappers to 'register' their traplines with us, (I know of no state that does), so I cannot say whether traps are present in those specific areas." He also said there is no mandate to display signage to tell people if traps are present where they are hiking.

While I still have no idea where all the traps are set in Jackson County, I did learn from a retired trapper that the Greensprings is a hot spot. What I didn't learn from him was how far off the Pacific Crest Trail these traps are hidden. The pleasure of one of our favorite hiking spots is dimmed as we worry about our dog stepping into a trap.

There are three main types of traps. Leg-hold traps are the most common and cause the least injury to your pet, as long as you're around to release them. Snare traps are a different matter. Made of steel aircraft cable, they tighten as the animal struggles, with the intention of killing quickly. Conibear traps, often baited, are the most dangerous. The website of Trap Free Oregon provides information on removal. Good luck, they're nearly impossible to open by hand and most are set in water so the animal drowns. A Conibear trapped Maggie, the dog that died in Gresham.

While the inadvertent trapping of dogs does occur, it is rare. The bigger issue is what happens to thousands of fur-bearing animals. According to ODFW statistics, 766 trappers reported a harvest of more than 23,000 animals for the 2010-2011 season. In Jackson County, 18 registered trappers captured 541 animals. The targeted prey include bobcats, beavers, foxes, otters, minks, coyotes and others.

Regulations require trappers to check traps set for fur-bearing animals every 48 hours. However, traps set for "predatory animals" must be checked only at intervals ranging from 76 hours to 30 days, depending on the type of trap. This means trapped animals often linger a long, long time before they are either killed by the trapper (who in order to save the pelt will club or crush the animal) or succumb to drowning, starvation or loss of blood. While our country has come a long way in legislating against cruelty to animals, trapping has not changed.

One doesn't need to be an animal rights extremist to believe trapping is wrong. A friend pointed out that many hunters draw the line with trapping. They believe taking life for food is acceptable but letting an animal suffer for days in a trap then clubbing it to death and selling its pelt for a few bucks is wrong.

Several states have already made trapping illegal. Perhaps we Oregonians can work together to achieve this goal and promote less harmful ways to enjoy our natural world. Visit the websites of Trap Free Oregon and Predator Defense to help achieve a more compassionate and safer Oregon.

Beckie Elgin of Ashland is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues.

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