Bobcat photo was worth thousands of words, and several phone calls | NevadaAppeal.com

Bobcat photo was worth thousands of words, and several phone calls

Barry Ginter
Nevada Appeal editor

It didn’t take long for the reaction to come from George Gussak’s photograph of a bobcat caught in a leghold trap.

The picture appeared in the Appeal a week ago on page A3 as a Capital Snap, a feature in which we run submitted photos from readers. They’re usually pleasant subjects such as sunsets, pets and landscapes.

But the bobcat photo hit a nerve, for obvious reasons. Trapping is controversial. The photo has prompted several letters and approximately 10 phone calls. The first two calls came early the next morning from people who were angry that we ran the photograph. But as we talked, it became clear they were upset about trapping more than the publication of the photo. In truth, we did not hesitate to run the photograph, knowing the power it held to inform and create a discussion on the issue of trapping in Carson City. Had there been blood or obvious signs of suffering, we may have acted differently.

The reaction we’ve received has been solidly against trapping, including the letter from 13-year-old Sarah Shadden that appears on this page. She’s holding a trapping protest on Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Legislature Building, and has also delivered flyers to homes in Kings Canyon. The photograph prompted her to research the subject of trapping and you can read her conclusions in her letter.

The photograph has created plenty of discussion about trapping, at least within Carson City’s boundaries. And, in any discussion, it’s important to have factual information. The trouble with any controversial issue, whether it be global warming, the war in Iraq or trapping, is that it’s hard to separate the factual from the carefully filtered sound bites put out by groups with a specific agenda and mission.

In other words, it’s hard to know what the truth is. But you can at least learn about an issue from all sides, which is why I was happy when I received a call from Eddy Willis, the trapper who captured the bobcat in the picture.

We talked about some of the commonly held beliefs about trapping. An often-heard claim from anti-trapping groups about leghold traps, for example, is that captured animals end up with shattered bones in their feet and that they will even chew off their legs to escape.

Trappers tell a far different story, however. Willis says in his five years of trapping, he’s never seen that happen. If it’s happened anywhere, he speculates, it may have been because of irresponsible trappers who did not check their traps regularly.

Nevada’s law requires traps to be checked at least every 96 hours, but Willis said he checks his traps more often than that. The bobcat in the photo was in the trap less than a day, he said. When he finds a captured animal, he dispatches it with a shot from a .22 caliber.

The traps themselves are not designed to inflict damage, he says. Rather the jaws are rounded and designed to do one thing, hold the animal. Willis says he’s caught himself and even his dog while setting traps with no damage done. On several occasions, he’s released female or young bobcats from his leghold traps and they’ve bounded off.

“Most of the time you can’t even tell they’ve been in a trap,” he said.

Because of the negative perception of leghold traps, Willis also uses live traps, especially in areas closer to homes. In fact, he had several live traps set up closer to the homes in Kings Canyon. The leghold traps were higher up the hill and not near any trails or roads or places likely to be visited by people or their pets. In fact, he was surprised when he learned the photograph appeared in the paper.

The photographer lives in Kings Canyon and is more adventurous than most hikers, which is why he came upon the scene. Gussak was upset at what he saw, and made calls to city and state animal agencies to see what could be done. He was told that trapping was legal, and they were unable to do anything.

Gussak doesn’t believe in trapping, especially within city limits, and says he’s concerned that dogs may get caught in the traps and perish before they’re found. He was surprised to learn that Willis was trapping in the area at the request of Kings Canyon residents who were fearful bobcats would prey on their pets. But he believes a better option is for pet owners to be more responsible in keeping their animals from harm.

“A bobcat almost has a right to be there,” he said.

Willis also gets requests from homeowners to trap other kinds of wild animals, including raccoons and skunks, that are causing damage around homes built close to wild areas.

As for bobcat populations, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence they are in trouble. Thousands of bobcats are trapped in Nevada each year. Willis has trapped 16 this year from throughout the region (four from the Kings Canyon area) and their pelts can bring anywhere from $100 to $500.

So there’s a lot to consider when deciding what to believe about trapping, and I haven’t even touched on another issue brought up by callers – the morality of trapping and using furs (not to mention the morality of wearing leather or eating meat).

Willis already realizes most people have already made up their mind, but hopes that now they’ll at least understand more about how and why he traps.

• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or bginter@nevadaappeal.com.