The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission this week unanimously denied a petition to ban trapping of wildlife in the state.
The commission rejected a petition by the Humane Society of the United States, submitted on behalf of 20 organizations, asking the commission to ban “all traps, including box traps, for the purposes of recreation, sport or commerce.”
The groups say Parks and Wildlife’s current regulations are inconsistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation; are inconsistent with Amendment 14 to the Colorado Constitution; are cruel, inhumane, and unpopular; and may jeopardize animals such as swift foxes, bobcats and lynx, Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow said in a memo to the commission.
Amendment 14, passed by Colorado voters in 1996, prohibits taking wildlife with leghold traps; with any instant-kill, body-gripping trap; or by poison or snare.
Parks and Wildlife continues to let trappers use live traps to target numerous furbearing species, and kill the animals they catch.
The petitioners argue that Amendment 14 allows cage or box traps only for limited purposes, including scientific research, falconry, and relocation or medical treatment of the animal being captured.
Christine Capaldo, a veterinarian, told the commission that traps don’t involve fair chase and are indiscriminate, resulting in animals such as lynx and raptors being caught.
“CPW has no database that tracks how many nontargeted animals are killed,” she said.
She said trapped animals struggle violently to escape, breaking teeth and fracturing bones, and while trapped they are exposed to the elements, from sun and heat to subzero conditions.
Dan Gates with the Colorado Trappers and Predator Hunters Association noted in comments to the commission that Parks and Wildlife’s rules require that the traps be checked every 24 hours.
Parks and Wildlife doesn’t place limits on the number of animals trappers can catch and kill, or track how many are killed each year, except in the case of bobcats, because of its resemblance to lynx.
More than 1,200 bobcats were killed in the 2019-20 season after being caught with live traps. Wendy Keefover with the Humane Society of the United States said swift fox, a species of special concern, are being killed in unknown numbers each year in Colorado.
“Trappers could be causing significant jeopardy to swift fox populations, but no one would know it,” she told the commission.
In Prenzlow’s memo, he said the commission strictly regulates furbearer trapping, possession and sale in the state, requiring a license or permit to take furbearers and setting limits on what species trappers can take, when they may do so and what trap designs they may use.
Jake Matter, senior assistant attorney general with the state Attorney General’s Office, told the commission that a Denver District Court judge in 2008 issued a nonbinding opinion finding that Amendment 14 doesn’t prohibit or otherwise restrict use of live traps to take wildlife in the state.
Wildlife Commissioner Charles Garcia said that if petitioners want to attack the constitutionality of what the commission currently allows, “I suggest that that be done in a court of law and not before the commission.”
Christy Cressler told the commission she took up trapping at age 32 and uses the activity to get outdoors with her boys, who learn the patience and dedication the activity requires.
“It truly saddens me to think on a very deep level … future generations might lose that right,” she told the commission.
While Commissioner Jay Tutchton voted against the petitioners, he voiced concern about the lack of bag limits for trapping furbearing species when the state has bag limits even for the prolific cottontail rabbit.
Commissioner Duke Phillips IV said, “If our trappers are overtrapping and trying to abuse this resource of animals, then it’s not going to be around for future generations, and they very plainly see that, I believe.”