The alleged owner of the trap that killed a local teenager’s dog near Hunter Canyon this past February has been charged in connection with the incident, and is scheduled to appear at a bench trial on Tuesday, April 11.
Timothy Shawn Gardner of Moab has pleaded “not guilty” to six misdemeanor charges of “unlawful methods of trapping.” He could not be reached for comment.
Moab high school student Ali Hirt was hiking with her two dogs and some friends on Feb. 10 when her Australian shepherd/pit bull mix, Stoic, was caught in the trap in Kane Creek and died within minutes. The incident was reported in the Feb. 22-28, 2018, edition of the Moab Sun News.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) officials set up surveillance cameras in the area and allegedly identified the owner of the trap as Gardner.
Gardner has a license to trap, and was allegedly operating during open trapping season in an area where trapping is legal. But DWR officials said the trap in question was not labeled with the required registration number and was not modified to protect non-targeted wildlife in accordance with state regulations.
“Each trapping device must have a permanent and legible trap registration number,” Utah DWR Lt. Ben Wolford said. “This is the same number found on a trap registration license. A person is only assigned one number, and it must be on the device. None of the traps had this number attached.”
The state requires that traps of the type Gardner allegedly used, set within 100 yards of tributaries to the Colorado River in the Moab area, must be modified to protect river otters. The modification involves relocating a trigger mechanism so that otters, which have a slimmer profile than beavers, can navigate the trap without activating the trigger. Otters are listed as a sensitive species in Utah, and efforts have been made over several decades to increase their population distribution in the state and to protect them from accidental trapping, aside from “nuisance” individuals.
However, the modification to protect otters would not necessarily have saved Stoic, Wolford said.
“We don’t know where the dog actually was hit with that trigger mechanism,” he said. “He may or may not have hit it, if it was modified.”
If Gardner is convicted, he will likely face fines. Wolford said the amount could be anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars, depending on what the prosecuting and defending attorneys agree upon.
Since the incident near Hunter Canyon, Gardner has allegedly been found to be involved in another trapping violation, in another location.
A local property owner, whose name is not being publicly released, found an unauthorized box trap on his land and contacted DWR officials. This trap is a style used for live capture of a variety of animals, including bobcats, skunks and raccoons.
Gardner allegedly approached the scene while a DWR officer was investigating.
“He (Gardner) came up the road,” Wolford said, “And my officer made contact with him and found out it was his trap.”
This incident is still under separate investigation, and so far, no official charges have been filed. Wolford expects that charges will be filed shortly, and may include trespassing and failure to properly label the trap with the license registration number.
Hirt said she is disappointed to hear that Gardner will plead “not guilty” to the misdemeanor offenses stemming from the Feb. 10 incident.
“Those were definitely his traps, and he definitely knew what he was doing when he put them so close to the trail,” she said. “I’d have a lot more respect for him if he’d pleaded guilty and owned up for the terrible thing that he did.”
Even if Gardner’s traps had been set according to current regulations, loose dogs in popular hiking areas could still be at risk from wildlife traps. Hirt acknowledged this.
“(It’s) something that I feel like should be addressed,” she said. “I think that they should have a restriction on how close you can set those traps in popular areas, especially right near a trailhead like that.”
Hirt, whose grandfather is a trapper, has initiated discussions of the issue on Facebook.
“I would like to see something done,” she said. “It could have been so avoidable, which is terrible.”
When Stoic was killed, he left behind his brother, Neko.
“He was really sad and lonely in the house,” Hirt said of the surviving dog. “So we went and got a rescue pup. His name is Pumbaa, and he’s been really good. They get along really well.”
Hirt said she is glad that Neko has a companion again, though the family is still sad about the loss of their dog.
Wolford has said that the DWR encourages trappers to avoid areas popular with other recreationists, but there is no enforcement. Trappers are free to operate on public lands.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Bryant has said that the agency tries to inform the public about wildlife traps, and encourages dog owners to leash their pets. But BLM officials cannot realistically place signs in every area where traps may be set, and there are no existing restrictions on trap placement in high-use areas.
Moab resident Frank Darcey is an organizer for the currently dormant Moab Sportsman’s Club. The club is not specifically associated with trapping, but Darcey is familiar with trapping techniques and some local trappers.
Darcey referred to the death of Hirt’s dog as “a terribly unfortunate accident.” However, he also feels that owners should leash their dogs in areas where there is a risk of traps.
“Nobody in the Sportsman’s Club wants to see anybody’s pet harmed, or in this case, killed,” Darcey said. “It’s also incumbent upon the pet owners to control their pets.”
“All trappers should be aware of the regulations,” Darcey added. “If you’re going to be trapping, you need to abide by all of the rules and regulations.”