By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"It's important to understand the depth of feeling these people have about this law," says Swain. "It involves the right to engage in an occupation, [and it involves] property rights; it places at risk a way of living that they value; it is a limitation of hunting activities. These are extremely law-abiding people. They don't violate traffic codes or hunting laws, and they decided to break the law only after a dialogue with their consciences and careful thought."
"I had some misgivings," says Paul Jensen. "I knew sooner or later my name would be in the local news, and I didn't want to be seen as a bad, nasty trapper. My wife wasn't too excited about it, either. In a way, it doesn't look good, and I'd never had any kind of problems before. But we decided we had to start somewhere."
For each of the chosen trappers, the plan was the same: He would alert the local DOW field agent or sheriff a week or so in advance of his intention to break the law and arrange a mutually acceptable time. It seemed simple enough. But one thing the trappers couldn't have predicted was how difficult it would be to get arrested and charged with a trapping crime in Colorado.
Their first effort was a complete flop.
"We had someone early on who was planning to challenge the law by setting a trap in the Walden area," recalls Swain. "He called the local DOW agent to alert them that he was setting a trap, but nobody from the agency responded. It was a little deflating."
And while Paul Jensen eventually managed to convince his friend, DOW agent Rob Dobson, to issue him a citation for illegally setting a trap, Al Deeds was having less luck in Moffat County. Deeds had contacted the county sheriff, advising him that he planned on breaking the law and asking if he'd kindly send someone out to cite him.
"So on the day they'd arranged, I sent a deputy out, and he wrote up a citation," recalls Buddy Grinstead, Moffat County sheriff. But, he adds, it wasn't something he was pleased about.
"Personally, I'm a supporter of the legal fund," Grinstead explains. "I've given money, plus I've requested brochures, and I've passed them out to local businesses. I'm an avid hunter -- that's why I live in Colorado -- and my son, who's ten, is following in my footsteps. I think management of wildlife is something that shouldn't be done by public vote. The public has no idea of things like animals per unit or range management. It's a shame that we have what we do regulated by people who don't understand us or our way of life."
When it came time to be charged, however, Deeds was out of luck. Rather than prosecuting Deeds for violating the constitution, the Moffat County District Attorney's Office decided to dismiss the case. Today DA Paul McLimans says he's sorry he didn't take action. "At the time, I didn't want to get involved in lengthy litigation, but I regret that we took the course we did. Obviously, we're in the business of prosecuting crimes."
"It was all very discouraging," says Swain. "It's an odd position for a criminal defense attorney to be in -- to be disappointed when your case is dismissed."
Worse, when the trappers did manage to get cited and their cases prosecuted, they were striking out. In October last year, a Chaffee County judge made a preliminary ruling rejecting the Public Trust Doctrine as a defense for Paul Jensen's actions. And in late November, a Saguache County judge shot down the Public Trust Doctrine. Al Davidson, who had set his trap five months earlier, was convicted of breaking the state's trapping laws. A month later, however, the trappers hit paydirt.
If the trappers of Colorado had the ability to create from scratch a poster boy for their cause, they couldn't have come up with a better man than 79-year-old John Jacob Gredig. A descendant of homesteaders from the Del Norte area, Gredig had lived and worked in central Colorado all his life. He'd also trapped for much of that life, and mostly as a necessity. He learned how to set leghold bear traps in the early 1950s while working as a ranch hand on the Crystal River Ranch in Garfield County.
In 1962 Gredig moved his family to a 22-acre spread in Basalt, in Pitkin County. At first they raised cattle, dairy cows and hogs. In 1973, however, the family turned strictly to Suffolk sheep, starting a flock from a single ewe purchased and raised by John's then-ten-year-old daughter, Caley. The 55-head flock is one of only two disease-free flocks in the state, a coup for breeders of the stock.
Although Gredig had heard of and supported the Davidsons' campaign to repeal Amendment 14 through his involvement with the Colorado Woolgrowers Association, he had no plans to involve himself actively. But all that began to change in the spring of 1999, when he started losing lambs. The first was killed on May 19. The following week, four others were killed. A DOW investigation showed they had been mauled by coyotes or dogs.