- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Heading out for a trail run with their dog, Ria, seemed like a great way to kick off 2017.

But Tony and Michelle Bautista’s New Year’s Day dash at Longview Lake Park turned terrifying when their red sheltie mixed-breed shrieked in agony.

“It was one of the worst experiences we ever had,” Michelle Bautista said, recalling how a trap’s steel jaws snapped shut on Ria’s left front paw as she trotted alongside her owners on a long leash. “She was struggling and screaming. She could have lost her foot because it literally cuts off the blood supply.”

Twelve-year-old Ria survived with only minor lacerations, however, because Tony Bautista cut the trap’s jaws with a saw he retrieved from home. But the 20-minute ordeal and a tense but civil encounter the next morning with the Grandview man who’d set the trap left the couple angry and wary of future jaunts at Longview.

“This is an absolute hazard,” Michelle Bautista said. “There’s supposed to be no trapping on park property.”

That’s true for all of Jackson County’s parks, and also for other parks systems in the Kansas City area contacted by The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/2j6ra6F ).

But trapping is allowed by permit on private property in Kansas and Missouri. And it’s permissible, but tightly controlled, on thousands of acres of public lands and waterways.

State agencies consider trapping as a form of recreation and a wildlife management measure to combat the spread of disease and reduce property damage - beavers dam streams and mink sometimes murder chickens in a thrill-kill frenzy.

Rarely do traps put people and pets in danger, state officials say, because the vast majority of trappers follow state laws governing the “harvesting” of animals by snares and steel traps. They generally must be set far back from footpaths.

But cats, dogs and non-target animals such as eagles are sometimes injured or killed in even legally placed traps. That only adds to the concerns of animal welfare activists who would like to outlaw all trapping or place more restrictions on an activity that its defenders claim is a wholesome, enjoyable and responsible way to interact with nature.

“The state of Missouri was started by trappers,” said Missouri wildlife damage biologist Todd Meece. “Lewis and Clark trapped. That’s how the West was settled.”

Trapping wildlife has always been driven by economics. Right now, it’s hard times for both commercial and hobby trappers like Meece (pronounced Mace), whose day job at the state Department of Conservation has him instructing Missouri residents on how to remove or control problem wildlife on their property.

In his spare time, he and his kids have enjoyed many days in the woods trying to make a little money on the side catching raccoons and other fur bearers.

“It’s fun to get out,” he said. “You don’t get much money, but it gives the kids something to do besides watch television.”

But because of plunging fur prices worldwide - oversupply and depressed demand in two of the biggest markets, Russia and China - fewer people are setting out traps this winter.

“The fur market in the last three to four years has been steadily going downhill,” Missouri conservation agent Travis Goreham said.

Bobcat pelts that were selling at auction for an average of $120 in 2013 were down to $34 last year and likely won’t bring much more at fur auctions in February. Raccoon prices are so low - a buck or two a pelt, compared with more than $13 four years ago - it isn’t worth the gas it takes to check the traps every day.

But like any industry, this one is cyclical, and surveys show that thousands of trappers in Missouri and Kansas continue to buy licenses every year - even if they don’t use them - in case prices snap back.

“Most outside the fur industry don’t realize how good it was just a couple years ago when there were some record-type prices, and significant money was being made by some fur harvesters,” said Matt Peek, wildlife research biologist at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.

That’s when 23-year-old Austin Mozingo started trapping.

He made enough money a few years ago that he could afford to take time off without pay from his day job (he won’t specify what that is) for weeks at a time in the winters. He ran trap lines and sold the pelts at auction.

Nothing went to waste, he says. The carcasses of scavengers, like opossums, he’d chop up for bait. Beaver, raccoon, muskrats and squirrels ended up in a stew pot or on the grill.

“Beaver, smoked, is like a cross between a pulled pork or brisket,” Mozingo said.

He hasn’t been doing as much trapping this winter, but he’s still at it, checking on dozens of traps in and around the metro area each morning before work. He skins his catch, tans the pelts and sells them over the internet.

“Every trapper is a businessman,” he said.

Like most trappers, Mozingo uses two kinds of traps. Lethal body-grip traps - although much larger than mousetraps, they operate on the same principle - he places underwater along the banks of streams and lakes for killing beaver, otters and muskrats.

On land he uses leg-hold traps for catching coyotes, raccoons, bobcats and foxes alive. He kills them with a gun or club, being careful not to ruin the fur.

The trap jaws are smooth, as those flesh-tearing jaws that you remember from cartoons largely have been outlawed nationwide.

“Everyone thinks of traps like in ‘The Fox and the Hound,’ where the traps have these sharp teeth,” Mozingo said. They hang on the walls of museum and trapper’s homes.

The leg-hold trap Ria caught her paw in? It belonged to Mozingo.

Michelle Bautista pressed charges and the county ticketed him for illegally placing traps on park land. The state cited him for failure to have a required identifying label attached to the trap.

Mozingo said he normally obeys the rules and blames the incident on “a misunderstanding.” He hasn’t decided whether to contest the charges or pay the fines and move on.

Cathy Liss is president of the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C. She knows none of the circumstances of this case. But she says it’s a perfect example of why leg-hold traps, also known as foothold traps, should be banned.

“Given the extreme cruelty and the ability to catch animals other than the target animal,” Liss said, “there is no reason to use this device.”

Even without teeth, those traps’ rounded and sometimes rubber-padded edges can tear skin and break bones. Wildlife have been known to gnaw off their limbs to escape. Dogs caught by mistake can lose a leg to gangrene.

That’s what happened last fall to a dog in Pittsburgh. Veterinarians amputated the leg of a 2-year-old Lab mix named Nittany after she was caught in a trap for hours.

Other, more humane traps are on the market, Liss said, and her organization has been urging the United States for years to join the European Union and dozens of others countries and outlaw leg-hold traps.

Eight states have banned or restricted their use: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington. Persuading the rest to follow suit won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, if you or your pet ever gets caught in one of those traps, you needn’t grab a saw. Open it by stepping or pushing on the levers on either side of the jaws. Online videos show how.

___

Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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