By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
On a crisp morning early last February, Paul Jensen, a 44-year-old man without even so much as a traffic ticket dulling his reputation walked out of his ranch house near the central mountain town of Salida and prepared to break the law. Consistent with his shoot-straight, live-by-the-rules character, Jensen had already alerted the local authorities as to his intentions, as well as to where the crime would be occurring, and so Ron Dobson was prepared.
"I know Paul real well. He's a good friend, a super guy -- definitely one of the guys I never, ever expected to write a ticket to," recalls Dobson, a game warden in the state Division of Wildlife's Salida field office. "He had called me one day and said, 'If you were to hear that I was trapping coyotes on my property, would you write me a ticket?' I told him, 'You're a legitimate rancher with a predator problem, so why don't you apply for a trapping exemption, and we'll get you one so you can trap them legally?
"And he said, 'No, you don't understand what I'm saying. I'm gonna trap coyotes now, and you're gonna write me a ticket."
Dobson was unsure. "I don't think he'd ever written a citation to anyone who'd asked for it," Jensen says. But after conferring with his boss, Dobson made an appointment to meet with Jensen -- the rancher to break the law and the game warden to charge him with the infraction.
On the morning of February 3, Dobson and another warden drove up to Jensen's 75-acre alfalfa ranch and slid out of their state truck. Jensen was waiting in his idling pickup. He greeted the warden cordially.
"Paul," Dobson replied.
"I told Ron I had put a trap in the ground and I was trying to catch coyotes," Jensen recalls. "He began taking pictures, videotaping the scene and reading me my rights. That was spooky."
"I didn't want to do it," Dobson adds. "But I decided that if I was going to do it, I'd do it right."
Jensen tried to make his guests comfortable. "It was a cold morning and there was a little breeze, so I invited him up to the house to write the citation," he remembers. "We sat and had some coffee. My wife had made fresh coffee cake as well, so we had some of that, too.
"I can't speak highly enough of Ron," Jensen adds. "He's a great DOW officer. I wish the state had more people like him. When I moved here ten years ago from Berthoud, I made sure to introduce myself to him and tell him I was a trapper and that I'd be trapping on my property. Later, he referred people to me for nuisance trapping."
That meeting over Jensen's kitchen table began what is probably the first widespread, managed campaign of civil disobedience the state has seen for several decades, and one of the unlikeliest. From last February, when Jensen set his trap and turned himself in to authorities, until September, when a lifelong trapper and sporting activist named Al Deeds set an instant-kill beaver trap in Moffat County and handed himself over to the local sheriff, a handful of trappers have engaged in a meticulously planned, well-funded and carefully orchestrated crusade to overturn Amendment 14, the state's three-year-old trapping ban.
Seesaw battles over voter-decided public policies have become familiar in Colorado. Such statutes are often passed on a wave of emotion, but some laws wanted by a majority of the public just aren't legal. In recent years, residents have seen two measures supported by voters -- Amendment 2, the 1992 anti-gay-rights initiative, and portions of Amendment 15, the campaign finance-reform initiative -- later overturned by courts.
Unlike those two initiatives, however, a ban on trapping hardly seemed controversial. For people who are unfamiliar with it, the idea of trapping can be distasteful. It can be bloody and, when viewed from the lawns of the state's growing cities, it can seem random and cruel. And to the vast majority of Coloradans, it is unfamiliar. Prior to 1996, in a busy year, maybe a few hundred residents actively trapped. In short, Amendment 14 seemed unassailable.
Yet now the state's trapping ban is poised to be erased. How did such a small group of people, promoting such an unpopular cause, get this far?
The idea of a trapping ban all started with mountain goats.
In the summer of 1994, while working as a volunteer manager of the University of Denver field station on Mount Evans, a retired DU biology professor named Robert Angell bumped into some goat hunters. Evans is the nearest 14,000-foot peak to Denver, and it's one of two fourteeners with a road to the top, so on warm days, the mountain can get crowded with people who normally don't trek into the backcountry. Angell, who lives in Denver's Washington Park neighborhood, felt that hunting was inappropriate in a place so heavily used by urban backpackers and wildlife watchers, and he demanded that the DOW restrict goat hunting on the mountain.
Soon afterward, Angell found himself near Guanella Pass, on the backside of Mt. Evans. There, he says, he noticed that trappers had reduced the beaver population in the stream alongside the road. So he also asked the DOW to consider banning trapping as well as goat hunting.