Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Wolf Trapping Stirs Up the Kids
Soleil St. Onge, Manay Whitcomb, Neve St. Onge, Ava Levigne and Amelia Pfau take part in the protest.
Thursday, March 7, 2019


Neve St. Onge doesn't want to see anyone or anything get stuck in a trap where they might be subject to excruciating pain, terror and frostbite.

"No living being should have to suffer that," she says.

"You wouldn't put a human in a trap so why would you set it out for wolves?" adds her friend Ava Lavigne.

Garrick Dutcher gave Ava Lavigne and Neve St. Onge copies of the book “Running with Wolves."

That's why St. Onge and Lavigne rallied classmates this week to hold a rally and march against an Idaho Fish and Game proposal that would legalize wolf traps in Blaine County.

The two fifth-graders at Hailey Elementary School and several friends and family members marched up and down the icy streets and sidewalks of Hailey for nearly two hours on Saturday before ending up at the Blaine County Courthouse where they delivered their petition to Blaine County Commissioner Dick Fosbury.

The petition states its opposition to Idaho Fish and Game shortening the grey wolf hunting season and allowing wolf trapping in Blaine County.

“We believe wolves are a part of the ecosystem in Blaine County,” it said.

Neve St. Onge and Ava Lavigne tried to testify at a recent public hearing Idaho fish and Game offered in Blaine County but were told they’d have to go to Boise to testify. They were unable to do so because the hearing was on a school day.

The project began as a Martin Luther King Day project, then evolved into a march, said Lavigne.

"We followed through with it and it took longer than we'd thought because of the planning process and all the snow. But we worked really hard and we passed out literature and prepared speeches and here we are," she said.

Idaho Fish and Game has allowed wolf trapping in some areas of the state, including an area southwest of Fairfield. But proposed changes would expand it onto private land on big game units in the Wood River Valley and Magic Valley.

That said, Idaho Fish and Game is revising its proposal and should have more information in the next few days, said Jim Hayden, the point man for the department on wolf trapping.

The girls were concerned that even little Woogie, who showed up at the rally, would be at risk if traps were allowed in the Wood River Valley.

Idaho Fish and Game officials say they intend just to allow trapping on private lands and have no intention of allowing it on public land.

But Garrick Dutcher, the research and program director for the non-profit Living With Wolves,  has been tracking the issue and he says the department did eventually open trapping up on public lands in Clearwater and other counties.

"Dogs and other animals wouldn’t be able to the traps because it's like offering a child candy,” said Lavigne. It’s like saying, ‘Okay come and get trapped.’ ”

Idaho Fish and Game estimates there are a thousand wolves in Idaho. Wolves were released in the mid-1990s with the caveat that Endangered Species Act protections would kick in only if numbers dropped below 150.

Trappers and hunters currently take about 300 annually.

Trappers can earn more than a thousand dollars for trapping a wolf in Idaho. But it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Traps and gear cost a couple thousand dollars, not to mention the gas used checking on traps.

The proposal includes snares, which generally kill whatever wanders into them, including bear, cougar, deer, elk or dog. The leg traps are the size of a volleyball--so strong that one would need to use sticks or other tools to spring them open once they close, said Dutcher.

Dutcher said he couldn’t use his bare hands to pry out a friend's dog that was caught in a leg trap near Richfield.

"I'm concerned because smells travel from private land onto public land and even dogs would be attracted to what's in the trap,” he said. “Plus, representatives of Blaine County Recreation District have told me that their trails often go in and out of public and private land."

St. Onge noted that there are only 1,200 to 1,800 trappers in the state. That pales in comparison to the number of hikers, bicyclists and other recreationalists who use trails in places like Adams Gulch and who could find themselves or their child or dog in a trap, she says.

"How can the state justify introducing the most dangerous leg hold traps when our state relies on outdoor recreation for residents and tourists?" she asked in a brief speech she gave atop a four-foot frozen snow bank at Hop Porter Park.

Dutcher concurred.

"You're not allowed to go hunting and shoot the wrong target. But traps get something other than what they're designed to trap 40 percent of the time. They're not selective," said Dutcher, whose organization attempts to foster knowledge and address misconceptions about wolves.

St. Onge noted that wolves only prey on the most vulnerable elk and deer--the old, sick and injured. That keeps the prey populations healthier, she said.

In addition, she said, wolves have been proven to keep the environment in balance. Since being reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, for instance, they have kept elk from bedding down in one place and eating all the willows and other vegetation there as they used to. That ensures there are plants  that can provide cover for the cutthroat trout, which cannot survive if cover is gone and their streams get too hot.

 "Wolves are part of our ecosystem and we need to learn to live with them," said Lavigne.

St. Onge said she wants to see Idaho Fish and Game's do its job efficiently.

“But this is not the way to mess up our beautiful valley. I can't believe they've taken $2 million from taxpayers over the last five years to kill wolves. That money could be better spent rewarding ranchers who use non-lethal means to deal with wolves."

Manay Whitcomb, a friend of the girls, said she showed up in support because "I think it's important for people to know what's going on with the wolves. You put traps out and you can injure animals and people, alike."

 Francie St. Onge, Neve’s mother, said she was proud of the girls for organizing the rally and petition: “It’s good to see them act on something they believe in and participate in the public process.”


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