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Trappers, dog owners still clashing

With one loud "Crack!", Bob Wangsness was convinced that the law on how trappers place traps in Minnesota must be changed.

Annie, a French Brittany owned by Bob Wangsness of Austin, nearly died she was caught in a Conibear-style trap in a ditch near Austin. Wangsness is among many dog owners who are lobbying for tighter rules concerning where Minnesotans can place traps.

With one loud "Crack!", Bob Wangsness was convinced that the law on how trappers place traps in Minnesota must be changed.

The Austin man was walking his 8-month-old French Brittany, Annie, along an abandoned railroad track south of Austin about six weeks ago when the dog got a bit ahead of him and went down into a low area.

Then he heard that snap, like she has fallen through ice. He ran up and saw something even worse: She caught be the neck in a Conibear-style trap. Annie was "lying motionless in that trap. It was terrible," he said.

He ran to her and was able to release the trap, and his dog suffered no lasting injuries. But if he hadn't gotten to her so quickly, "she would have been dead in a few minutes," he said.

He believes the trapper has baited the trap with fish heads, and since that day he hasn't taken Annie, his new grouse-pheasant hunting dog, down that track.


Wangsness, a retired teacher, wrote to the Department of Natural Resources, calling on the department to change its laws. "After seeing what happened here, I'd like to see them outlawed unless you could set them where only the species you are trying to trap has access to the trap," he said.

He believes the traps are humane but wants to make sure trappers know how much damage they can do to species they aren't trying to trap.

That matches up with what a new group called Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping MN wants, too. It formed in the past several months because the 2012 Minnesota Legislature made only minor changes to trapping laws, and hunting dogs continue to be killed, said Loren Waalkens of Lake City, an avid member who nearly lost a dog more than a year ago.

The changes last year specified that there has to be an overhang over the top of many traps, he said. That's not enough to keep a dog away. And the law only applies to public lands and waters, he said.

His group wants much stricter rules about the traps and wants them to apply statewide, on private and public property. Right now, trappers can set traps in ditches along public lands, so those areas aren't safe for upland game hunters to take their dogs, he said. "There is nothing you can do about it," he said.

Many trappers oppose that change, and that upsets Waalkens, who said he once trapped. "They just don't care is what it comes down to," he said.

Wisconsin has stricter laws about traps and trap placement, and it hasn't seen any decrease in trapping, he said.

His group has several examples, taken from Michigan, of how the traps can be set in boxes, olfpails or higher up so that furbearers like raccoons can get at the trap, but not dogs.


With traps, there's no such thing as 100 percent safety, but at least Minnesota can try harder, he said.

The group's membership is growing, and it's going back to the Legislature to demand further changes, Waalkens said.

The DNR, for its part, supports "measures that would reduce the accidental capture of domestic animals," said Jason Abraham, who works with the furbearer issue. But it's not taking sides on what specific legislation should be passed, he said.

"Largely, now that it's in the legislative arena, they (the groups) are kind of trying to come up with something," he said.

Efforts to contact several representatives of the Minnesota Trappers Association were unsuccessful.

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