By William Breathes
By William Breathes
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
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.
It wasn't the first time Angell had petitioned the wildlife division to protect animals. He had aggressively supported Amendment 10, the 1992 initiative that outlawed the state's spring bear hunt. The success of that measure had convinced him that voters were ready for more restrictions on the way Colorado's wildlife was managed. Angell thought a trapping ban was a reasonable request, and one that was long overdue.
"Until I got into this, I wasn't even aware that some types of traps were still used," he says today. "Trapping is an indiscriminate, inhumane way of killing animals. If you don't believe me, come over and I'll show you some videotapes."
Coincidentally, the wildlife division was already in the process of reconsidering its trapping rules. After a year's worth of public meetings and debate, in July 1995 the agency settled on a series of half-step reforms. Leaning heavily on a survey taken primarily among Front Range residents that showed most people wouldn't miss trapping, the wildlife commission (whose governor-appointed members oversee the DOW and make policy) enacted a new set of laws that it hoped would promote kinder, gentler trapping. It required padded-jaw traps and restraining snares -- snares that hold but do not choke and kill animals. In addition, the commissioners reduced the type of animals that could be legally trapped, from eighteen fur-bearing species to eight (the red fox, raccoon, badger, coyote, striped skunk, muskrat, beaver and bobcat).
Angell was unimpressed, and upon learning that the wildlife division would not be banning trapping outright, he decided that he would do it himself. He contacted his old friends from the Amendment 10 fight -- they still had a mailing list -- and he and his wife, Elisa, a retired librarian, formed Colorado People Allied With Wildlife (PAWW) to take the issue directly to the voters. (The couple first called their group Coloradans Against Trapping and Snaring, but, Angell recalls, "too many people thought we were fighting for cats.")
The group began meeting in living rooms, signing up volunteers and collecting money. Angell's collection of grisly videos began appearing in heartbreaking television spots. By the time PAWW was finished, a cadre of 100 core volunteers had collected 102,000 signatures -- nearly double the number required to put the issue before voters -- and a quarter of a million dollars, much of it contributed by the Angells themselves. "Amendment 14 ruled our lives for a year and a half," Angell says.
The fight was close until the end. On that November election night, Angell remembers, "a lot of people went to bed thinking we'd lost." But as morning broke, the results showed Amendment 14 passing by just over a 2 percent margin -- hardly a landslide, but enough to change the state constitution. A precinct map would show support for the initiative appearing as a T, following I-25 along the Front Range and then horizontally along the urban and resort centers of I-70. The measure went down heavily in rural counties.
"In the urbanized areas, it's recognized that trapping and snaring are extremely inhumane," Angell explains. "People just had to be shown what was going on."
"Let me offer some perspective," says Todd Malmsbury, chief spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "Before Amendment 14 passed in 1996, we sold fewer than 1,000 trapping licenses a year -- mostly to part-time hobbyist trappers. In 1998 we sold a quarter-million elk licenses. I'm not saying that trapping wasn't important. What I'm saying is that trapping was a minor activity."
Although some trappers took animals mainly for the fur, that market has been depressed in recent years as fur coats have gone out of style, and much of the trapping activity in Colorado before November 1996 was done to control "nuisance animals." The majority of these are coyotes, which prey on livestock, and beaver and muskrat, which cause problems in rural waterways, where they block up or destabilize irrigation ditches and farm ponds.
Typically, prior to 1996, a trapper would remove a troublesome beaver using one of two types of traps. The first is a traditional leghold, which grips the animal's leg when tripped. If it's set properly, the jaws then hold the beaver under water, drowning it in two or three minutes. The second commonly used device is called a Conibear trap, which is essentially a giant mousetrap: When it's tripped, a jaw snaps over the animal's back or neck or head -- in theory, killing it instantly.
Amendment 14 effectively ended such trapping of nuisance animals. (An exemption in the law allows a bona fide farmer or rancher to trap thirty contiguous days every year, but only if he can prove he has exhausted other methods of controlling the animals.) That doesn't mean the problem of nuisance animals has disappeared, of course. And for those who want to get rid of unwanted critters -- say, a new homeowner whose trees on the riverbank are being decimated by beavers, or a rancher whose flock is being attacked by coyotes -- there are still ways to do it.
First, a property owner can simply shoot the troublesome animal. Indeed, in the wake of the new trapping restrictions, that is usually what a Division of Wildlife field officer will recommend when he receives a phone call from someone asking what can be done about four-legged pests. Yet guns are not always a good solution. In addition to being potentially inhumane -- not everyone is a good shot, particularly when it comes to small, moving targets -- firearms present a number of specific problems.
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.
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.
Once rare sights on a ballot, today public votes on how to manage wildlife have become increasingly common. In 1996, residents of eight states considered issues ranging from what was the ethical way to hunt wolves (Alaska banned shooting them from an airplane) and bears (Massachusetts and Washington banned using bait and hounds, while Michigan and Idaho kept those methods) to trapping (Massachusetts banned even possessing traps). Since then, California and Arizona residents have voted to ban trapping, Alaskans have banned wolf snares, and Ohioans have contemplated (and kept) dove hunting, among other things.
To supporters of the measures, the ballot box is the last resort for altering the way animals are managed. Too often, they say, the concerns of people who want to protect animals (a growing number, particularly in cities) are overlooked by the agendas of those who like to kill them. In fact, most state wildlife agencies still are supported, either in part or in full (like Colorado's), by the sale of hunting and fishing tags. Last year the Colorado DOW earned $55 million from hunting and fishing licenses and $10 million from the federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment. It is no accident that wildlife officials have opposed the majority of ballot initiatives that restrict the taking of animals. In 1992, the Colorado Wildlife Commission officially came out against managing wildlife through public ballots.
Wildlife administrators argue that they have good reasons for not wanting to manage animals by popular vote, reasons that extend far beyond their budgets. To begin with, they point out that initiatives are prejudiced. Voters tend to rally around animals that are big and fuzzy and pleasurable to look at. A sizeable block of the voting public has yet, for example, to coalesce in favor of protecting common slugs, which often suffer slow, cruel deaths at the hands of gardeners. "We manage ecosystems, not specific animals," notes the DOW's Croonquist.
Suddenly offering particular protection to one animal can have unforeseen consequences, as well. Recently, for instance, Colorado's mule deer population has plunged. That could be the result of rapid development -- until recently the deer relied heavily on places like the Vail Valley for winter habitat, and much of that land has been transformed into high-priced landscaping and ski slopes. Then again, says Croonquist, the decline could have something to do with an increase in the coyote population, which might be a consequence of the ban on trapping.
For years, state wildlife agencies have used hunting and trapping as a means to balance all of their animal populations, and taking these tools away can create imbalances. Consumers accustomed to the previous equilibrium can find the new order alarming, and that can produce odd bedfellows. Recently, for instance, the California Audubon Society, an environmental group of long standing, asked officials to modify that state's popularly elected trapping ban. The reason? The fox population, historically controlled by trapping, was preying on endangered bird species.
The animal initiatives have created an even greater sense of unease among the more common consumers of wildlife -- hunters, in particular. In some states, there has even been a backlash. Last year in Minnesota, residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a symbolic initiative that reaffirmed their right to hunt and fish in the state. Utah residents recently voted to raise the number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot, a measure pushed largely by sportsmen's groups fearful of losing their footing to an increasingly urbanized population.
When rubbed together, sportsmen's gathering fears and wildlife managers' anxieties combined to produce a spark at the National Trappers Association headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. "About two years ago, this representative from the National Trapping Association called," Davidson recalls. "He said that their legal advisor had come up with an idea to attack Amendment 14 through the courts."
Somebody has to represent unpopular causes, and Stephen Boynton received his trial by fire. In 1971, an Alaskan company was having difficulty complying with a government law that restricted its product -- seal fur pelts. Boynton, who works out of Washington, D.C., agreed to take up the firm's cause, and he has been in the employ of hunting and trapping concerns ever since. Today, one of his most active clients is the National Trapping Association. He fights its battles on two fronts.
The broadest is through the Ballot Initiatives Coalition, an organization Boynton founded in 1998 to combat any anti-hunting, -fishing or -trapping issue that might appear for a popular vote; and, alternately, to promote those initiatives that promise to protect sporting interests. So far the coalition has raised about three-quarters of a million dollars from organizations like the National Rifle Association, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization and has involved itself in a half-dozen state initiatives. "These groups realize this is a very significant issue and that if we can stop it at an early level, we won't have to fight it later," he explains.
In the meantime, Boynton also has thrown himself into the more specific clash over trapping. Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts already have bans in place. In the past two years, Colorado, Arizona and California have passed trapping bans, and the movement seems to be picking up steam. Boynton says trapping opponents in Oregon, Mississippi and Washington are hoping to place the issue before voters later this year. So when he sat down and began to search for a way to stem the tide, there was a sense of urgency. What he stumbled on during his research was something called the U.S. government's Public Trust Doctrine.
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.
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.
"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.
The family had already tried to scare off predators. They own three Turkish Okbash guard dogs as well as a guard burro. They checked the flock during the day and at night, and all of the fences were sound. Guns were out of the question. "Colorado 82 runs just north of our house, Sopris Road runs just south, and on the two other sides we are surrounded by subdivisions," explains Caley, "so we really can't shoot without fear of hitting a car or a kid. Also, it's not politic to shoot in a subdivision."
Trapping seemed the only option. Gredig decided to take advantage of Amendment 14's thirty-day exemption period for ranchers and farmers, and on June 14, a local contract trapper, Judy Schilling, set ten snares on Gredig's land. By July 13, however, nothing had been caught. But Gredig had reached a decision: He wanted to keep the traps in place, and he wanted to sign up for the campaign against the trapping ban. The Wildlife Organizations Legal Fund was only too happy to oblige. "This was virtually a tailor-made situation," acknowledges Caley. "So we said, 'Well, might as well go for it.'"
In late July, Gredig set four of his own snares and alerted the local game warden, Kevin Wright.
"We almost had to beg the DOW to give us a citation," Caley recalls. "We called them and told them we were still trapping. They said, 'Aw, don't worry about it.' So then we told them we would have to call the neighbors if they didn't cite us and that they would probably call the press. So eventually the DOW said, 'Well, we have to do some research about the citation...'"
The Gredigs finally persuaded Wright that they were serious about breaking the law, and on August 4, two DOW agents stopped by the family's ranch. Caley offered them coffee. The agents asked John again if he was sure he wanted to go through with the crime. He assured them he was, so they sprang and confiscated the traps, took some pictures, issued the citation and left. On September 14 the case went to trial in front of Pitkin County Judge Fitzhugh "Tom" Scott.
As each of the trappers' cases had come up for consideration, Swain had been honing her reasoning. "We had been refining our arguments during the first two cases," she says. By the time Gredig's case was up, Swain's presentation on the Public Trust Doctrine was sharp. "We argued hard that wildlife needed to be managed for everyone, and not just for the people who voted against Amendment 14," she says. Two days after Christmas, the judge issued his decision.
"Amendment 14 represents an improper control of administration of wildlife by citizen initiative in violation of...the Colorado Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine," he wrote. "Hence, Amendment 14 is unconstitutional, and the defendant is accordingly acquitted."
The Pitkin County District Attorney's Office has signaled that it aims to appeal the decision; in the meantime, the trapping ban will remain in effect. Yet for the past two months, the trappers have been on a roll. The decision has bolstered their spirits and -- more important -- the campaign against Amendment 14.
After Scott's decision, "the support we've been nursing along all year started pouring in," Fae says exaltedly. "People want to be on a winning team. These groups are hit with so many legal issues anymore, they have to pick and choose which they're going to support."
The Angells, meanwhile, admit they were caught off-guard. "We waited to disband PAWW for two years after Amendment 14 passed," says a glum Bob Angell. "We thought that would be long enough. Obviously, it wasn't."
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city