RENO, NV - The trap, in its various forms--leg-hold, noose, conibear--look to the uninitiated every bit as lethal and cruel as their critics say they are. But to the trapper following an ancient trade, it's a tool.
Whatever it may be, there's no arguing it is anything but indiscriminate. It catches anything or anyone that triggers its trap.
In Nevada they're set by licensed trappers to catch several fur-bearing species, most often the bobcat, whose pelt can be worth a thousand dollars or more.
But critics say all too often, the animal in its jaws is something else: a non-target species, pack rats, rabbits, birds, including the federally protected golden eagle and mountain lions.
Domestic pets also fall victim as a survey of Nevada trappers over an eight-year period revealed.
"They caught almost 200 domestic dogs in this small sample of trappers that reported," says longtime wildlife advocate Don Molde. "Over 100 domestic cats, 172 mountain lions."
Molde and others have long pushed for reform of Nevada's trapping law, in particular its regulation which requires a trapper to visit his traps every 92 hours. That's one of the longest in any of the Western states. Utah and Oregon require a check every 48 hours. Arizona every 24.
But here in Nevada that means an animal, domestic or wild, could spend four days in a trap before being freed or put out of its misery.
The results can be gruesome ordeal of mutilation, starvation and death.
Molde says a high percentage of Nevada mountain lions show signs of having been caught in traps, losing portions of their paws.
Last year the Legislature passed a bill directing the state Wildlife Commission to examine the issue and possibly shorten the visitation period to 24 hours. The commission did put further restrictions on the congested areas around Reno and Las Vegas, but left things unchanged through the rest of the state.
Even sizeable communities like Elko, Molde says, were not considered populated by the commission.
In any case, while offering some relief to domestic animals near urban areas, it did nothing, he says, for non-target species, and left even those animals the trappers intended to catch to suffer needlessly.
"We don't think that this postage stamp approach that the commission came up with has anything to do with protecting animals from these kinds of devices that litter the Nevada landscape in trapping season. They're all over the place."
So, Molde and others have filed the lawsuit against the commission and are asking for an injunction putting this year's trapping season on hold until it comes up with a comprehensive plan which protects all wildlife.
"Our suit is about protecting public property. That's what wildlife is. It's public property. It doesn't belong to the trappers. It doesn't belong to the hunters. It doesn't belong to the Wildlife Commission even though sometimes I think they believe that."
We reached out to Commission Vice Chair Jeremy Drew, but he declined comment citing the pending litigation. No court date has been set.
Molde's group, Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife Management, plans a website and a funding drive. They already have a Facebook page.