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Trap Sheet

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

The doctrine has been around for many years -- the Supreme Court ruled on one aspect of it more than 150 years ago -- but mostly it has shown up in connection with water rights, and generally in states west of the Mississippi. Although complex, what it boils down to, at least in Boynton's interpretation, is that "the government has the duty to manage fish and wildlife for all the people, and that is a job that cannot be delegated to the people" by popular vote. For example, while a river may run through a man's property, he can't alter its course in a way that affects people downstream because, according to the doctrine, the water belongs to the public. Reading the doctrine, Boynton concluded that while it was certainly proper for voters to set broad legislative goals -- to protect and care for wildlife -- directing the particulars of how to do this by popular vote was unconstitutional.

Now that he had a legal argument on which to base the National Trappers Association's opposition to the anti-trapping initiatives, however, Boynton still needed to get it into court. He considered challenging the new trapping bans directly in state district court, but civil suits can drag on for years and cost millions of dollars. What he needed, Boynton concluded, was a good criminal case.

Such a case would require criminals. And Colorado, where the anti-trapping initiative had barely passed, seemed like a good place to begin.

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.

In early 1998, Boynton flew to Grand Junction, where he presented his Public Trust Doctrine idea to CTA president Davidson and the organization's local lawyers. He flew out again in November that year. This time, in addition to Davidson, several representatives of sportsmen's and agricultural groups attended the gathering at a Denver Best Western. It was there that Boynton recommended the trappers start a legal fund and begin trying to find eight people willing to get arrested.

Much of the legwork fell to Al Davidson's wife, Fae, who had picked up what she knew about trapping late in life, as a marital necessity. "I had to learn about trapping to marry this guy," she says. Although she'd started out as a graphic designer, for the past 25 years Fae had worked as a marketer in the travel business, selling packages and tours to tourists at dinners and trade shows. Promoting the idea of an unfair law, it seemed, couldn't be so different.

In November Fae set up the Colorado Wildlife Organizations Legal Fund, or WOLF. (That turned out to be a mistake. "When people saw the acronym WOLF, it was just not received well," she says. "Until you explain who you are, you sound like an animal-rights organization." Now the legal fund simply uses its full name.) She printed up 10,000 brochures explaining the legal fund's plans and began scheduling speaking engagements -- some weeks she had as many as three. She spoke to "the wool growers, the mule deer people, bowhunters, cattle groups." She passed out the legal fund's brochure and urged people to copy it and give it to others. Some people wrote checks then and there; others sent money later.

In late 1998, the CTA's Grand Junction law firm hired a local real estate lawyer named Marcia Swain to work on nothing but the trapping issue full-time. In the meantime, Fae and Al Davidson began to search for trappers willing to get arrested to get the case against Amendment 14 heard in court. One consideration was location. Swain and Boynton recommended getting the trappers to break the law someplace west of the Continental Divide. "We felt we would have a more understanding forum in a rural jurisdiction, where judges would have a better understanding of the challenges farmers and ranchers face," explains Swain.

Fae was also concerned about public relations. There would be no filthy, foul-mouthed mountain men covered in blood. "We wanted to handpick them," she explains. "We wanted people with clean records who would fit in. We wanted to know that these guys were responsible trappers who knew their business and who could speak well."

Mindful of the power of television and photographic images of helpless and bloodied animals pinned in cruel metal jaws -- such as those starring in Angell's videotapes -- Fae also pushed for the trappers to break the law simply by setting the traps, not by actually catching an animal in them. "It was important to set the right tone, so no animals were in the traps," she says. "That was definitely something we did not want. We just didn't want to rile up the whole emotional issue."

(Presenting a palatable public face has been a constant battle for Fae. In one interview, Al begins a story: "I'm color-blind, so red doesn't bother me. One day I had been skinning coyotes, and I came back in the house. I tracked blood all over the place, one side to the other. There was blood all over the place! Of course, Fae could see all the blood..." "Oh, don't tell that story, Al," Fae interrupts gently. "Nobody needs to hear that.")

By early 1999, the Davidsons had selected their civil-disobedience crew. Al himself would get arrested in Saguache County. Al Deeds, the Steamboat Springs trapper, would cross into Moffat County and set an illegal trap. Paul Jensen would break the law in Chaffee County. And a frustrated sheep rancher named John Gredig would test the ban in Pitkin County.

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