Trap Sheet

Why was it so hard for these upstanding, law-abiding citizens to get arrested?

One is that most nuisance animals are nocturnal. They work at night, an inconvenient time for landowners to stake out their property, not to mention a bad time for discharging weapons accurately. Another drawback is that Colorado is becoming crowded. A person in a subdivision whose ornamental aspen trees are being felled by beavers cannot responsibly discharge a firearm near other houses for fear of mistakenly hitting a person or house.

But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of shooting compared to trapping, says Dave Croonquist, the DOW's assistant chief of law enforcement, is fairness and efficiency: Unless he catches a critter in the act, how does the shooter know that he is killing the right animal? "You're driving down the back forty and you see a coyote or bear, and you thump it. There's nothing to say that was the animal doing the damage," he points out. "Trapping, on the other hand, can be selective. You can trap at a problem site and you're pretty sure that you got the right animal."

So despite the restrictions of Amendment 14, many landowners still prefer to trap nuisance animals, often hiring professional trappers, especially for beaver. According to the new laws, they must use what are referred to as humane or live traps, which can be used legally year-round. Made by companies like Hav-A-Heart and Bailey-Hancock, these suitcase-sized contraptions lure animals into a cage. Once an animal trips a spring-loaded door, it is held inside the cage until the trapper arrives. This is precisely what the Angells and their supporters intended -- a more compassionate way to handle animals.

Rabble-rousers: Caley Gredig and her father  had to beg the Department of Wildlife to cite them for trapping illegally.
David Rehor
Rabble-rousers: Caley Gredig and her father had to beg the Department of Wildlife to cite them for trapping illegally.

The dilemma with live traps, however, is what to do next. "We don't have anyplace to put the beaver -- my district is filled up," says Dobson, the DOW field agent in Salida. "Right now I'm not transplanting beavers -- haven't for two years, at least. I could release it with other beavers, but they're territorial, and the new one wouldn't survive.

"Besides, this time of year, I'd just be condemning them to a slow death. Beavers basically work all summer to set up food caches for winter. If I moved one away from its cache, I'd just be setting it up for a cruel death."

In the wake of Amendment 14, typically what a trapper will do once he has caged a beaver in a live Bailey-Hancock trap is this: He will walk up to the animal, pull out a gun, shoot it in the head and wait for it to die. Then he will remove it from the trap and throw it away.

"'Cruel' is a relative term," notes Croonquist. "What people tend to forget is that there is life outside Saran-wrapped beef in King Soopers."

It would be generous to estimate the number of Colorado's full-time trappers in the dozens. As a profession, carefully setting and concealing a line of 200 traps, checking it every day, retrieving the animals and skinning, fleshing and drying a pelt that sells for only a few dollars does not make a lot of economic sense. "When you've got five hours of effort into a coyote that you sell for ten dollars, is that not a labor of love?" asks Al Deeds, a trapper from Steamboat Springs.

Still, there are a fair number of sportsmen across the state who, prior to the passage of Amendment 14, trapped for fun, to supplement their income or to rid their property of nuisance animals. This small group of hobbyists is staunchly committed to the craft. If anything, as their numbers have steadily dwindled, the state's few remaining trappers seem to have become more strident, feeling they have a duty to safeguard a disappearing way of life.

Deeds, for example, began trapping when he was ten years old, on his family's farm in Pennsylvania. "The muskrats would burrow through the pond dam and flood the property, and we needed to control the population," he recalls. "Since then, it's pretty much been my life." What Deeds means is not that he has always made a living producing pelts -- today he renovates log homes -- but that trapping is the single thing with which he most closely identifies himself.

"It's something that gets into your blood," he explains. "Ask yourself: If you had to say one thing that you are, what would it be? That's what trappers do, even if they don't trap for a living."

Such an attitude turned Amendment 14 into a rallying point among diehard trappers. Yet their relatively small numbers presented an obstacle to fighting back. Collecting another 50,000-plus signatures among a state population increasingly out of touch with its rural side was a daunting task. Even if they could do that, placing the issue back before voters guaranteed nothing; the trappers could lose even worse.

"About one year after Amendment 14 passed, we just started looking at options, and we couldn't come up with anything," recalls Al Davidson, president of the Colorado Trappers Association. "It was a constitutional amendment, and we didn't have anybody to challenge it. It took us a year to get our thoughts in order. The thing was like a big dinosaur -- nobody knew how to grab it. We just couldn't come up with any ideas." Fortunately for the state's diehard trappers, Davidson and the CTA were not alone.

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