Bear capture case illuminates dark side of pursuing wildlife with dogs for ‘sport’

Parowan man who pleaded guilty wants his hunting privileges restored, while a dog trainer is headed to trial on felony charges.

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Utah law allows hunters to pursue black bears with dogs, but a case involving a Florida dog trainer shows how this "sport" can veer off into criminality.

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Utah law allows hunters to pursue black bears with dogs, but a case involving a Florida dog trainer shows how this “sport” can veer off into criminality.By Brian Maffly  | June 7, 2021, 5:00 a.m.| Updated: 6:26 a.m.

They chased a bear with dogs for at least 90 minutes before it collapsed from exhaustion and cowered in fear, then they put the dehydrated animal in a cage when it became unresponsive and appeared to be dying.

According to court records, William “Bo” Wood kept the bear at his hunting camp in Grand County for two days. After the bear recovered he released the animal to pursue it again, in violation of Utah hunting regulations that prohibit capturing bears and other protected wildlife.

While using dogs to pursue bears is legal and growing in popularity in Utah, the 2018 incident in the La Sal Mountains resulted in felony charges against Wood, 31, a Florida dog trainer who has been arrested for allegedly abusing bears in his home state, and his Utah companion Clifford Stubbs of Parowan.

The incident shines a light into the little-known and ethically suspect practice of pursuing wild animals for sport. Critics say such pursuits harass wildlife, which is not legal in any other context, and could endanger anyone coming upon a bear that had been traumatized by dogs.

Such concerns were front and center in this case, according to evidence presented Thursday to the Utah Wildlife Board as it weighed the fate of Stubbs’s hunting privileges.

Stubbs told the board he knew nothing of his friend’s crimes and condemned Wood’s alleged abuses. A 48-year-old concrete contractor, Stubbs did plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor wildlife violations, but asked the board to drop the three-year suspension imposed by the Division of Wildlife Resources, known as DWR. Stubbs claimed he acted to save the bear, which had collapsed beside a road near homes in a place called Willow Basin near Moab.

“The division wants to use wildlife conservation laws to punish Cliff for conserving wildlife,” his lawyer Brent Ward told the Wildlife Board. ”He had a humane interest in preserving the bear. He did not want a dead bear on his hands. There’s nothing illegal or inappropriate in wanting to keep a bear from dying. Surely that was a greater good than letting the bear die.”(Screen shot courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
This video image depicts several dogs cornering a female black bear during a pursuit on May 19, 2018 in Grand County. The video was found on the phone of William "Bo" Wood, a Florida dog trainer now awaiting trial on felony charges stemming from the incident.

(Screen shot courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) This video image depicts several dogs cornering a female black bear during a pursuit on May 19, 2018 in Grand County. The video was found on the phone of William “Bo” Wood, a Florida dog trainer now awaiting trial on felony charges stemming from the incident.

During the three-hour hearing, some board members agreed there were mitigating factors weighing in Stubbs’s favor, but following two hours of deliberation in 4-3 vote, the board upheld Stubbs’s suspension, which doesn’t affect Stubbs’s ability to hunt animals other than bears and cougars.

The decision pleased DWR officials.

“This type of behavior is not representative of the vast majority of people and was not only unsportsmanlike, but it is also illegal,” said Justin Shirley, DWR’s chief of law enforcement. “We always encourage people to contact DWR officials rather than take matters into their own hands. Our agency is committed to enforcing and promoting legal hunting, and this did not fit that description.”

DWR lawyer Kyle Maynard argued Stubbs knowingly violated statutes intended to protect not only wildlife, but also preserve hunting.

“Mr. Stubbs and his hunting party pursued a bear to the point of exhaustion and became concerned the bear may die, something not allowed under a bear pursuit permit. In an attempt to avoid one violation, they committed another. Mr. Stubbs and his party at this point deliberated and made a choice to pick the exhausted bear up, bring it into their possession, locking in a dog box,” Maynard told the board. “He wasn’t acting to save the bear. He was acting to save himself from what he believed was a more serious violation.”(Screenshot via Zoom) Clifford Stubbs testifying before the Wildlife Board on June 3, 2021 in an effort to get his hunting privileges restored following his conviction in a bear pursuit gone bad.

(Screenshot via Zoom) Clifford Stubbs testifying before the Wildlife Board on June 3, 2021 in an effort to get his hunting privileges restored following his conviction in a bear pursuit gone bad.

Stubbs, who has pursued hundreds of bears in his 22 years in the sport, had never run afoul of wildlife rules before May 19, 2018, when he and Wood chased the female bear in circles. Video Wood shot at the chase’s conclusion shows the barely mobile bear under attack by nine baying dogs. The two-minute clip, which DWR attorneys showed the Wildlife Board, indicates the bear is so spent it can’t move its hind legs as it moans in fear, with the dogs barking and nipping at it. Yet no one is shown in the video trying to restrain the dogs, although Wood can be heard shooing the bear away from a tree it was trying to climb.

Stubbs said he immediately pulled his dogs away from the bear when he arrived on the scene as his companions discussed killing it. He knew that killing the bear would be illegal and would require a report to DWR.

But leaving the bear was not a good option either because the spot was near homes, he said. A curious passerby was liable to get injured if they startled the bear. So Stubbs reasoned the best option was to take the bear to camp, but on Thursday he acknowledged the better move would have been to call DWR for help.

The men put the bear into a box built for dogs, loaded it into a pickup and drove to camp and provided it with water and Gatorade.

Stubbs went home about an hour later while the caged bear was still unresponsive, he told the board. Wood led him to believe the animal recovered and was released later that day without incident. He claimed he didn’t learn of the bear’s prolonged incarceration and second chase until he was criminally charged the following year.(Marion County Sheriff's Office) William "Bo" Wood faces felony charges in Utah for allegedly capturing a black bear during a 2018 hunt that went bad.

(Marion County Sheriff’s Office) William “Bo” Wood faces felony charges in Utah for allegedly capturing a black bear during a 2018 hunt that went bad.

The case came to light after Florida wildlife officials began investigating Wood in response to social media posts depicting what appeared to be illegal bear hunts. They seized his phone which they discovered contained images of a bear confined in a truck registered to Stubbs, according to Utah DWR conservation officers Kody Jones and Adam Wallerstein. The officers testified the phone contain 30 videos showing the Utah bear’s chase, capture and captivity—all of which will likely be used as evidence against Wood at his trial.

Bear hunting and pursuits are two distinct activities in Utah. Hunters bagged 443 bears last year, an increase from 369 bears harvested in 2019, according to DWR data.

Bear chases are the subject of a different permit system in which permits are awarded for spring, summer and fall seasons. Statewide 557 permits were awarded in 2018 and the La Sal Mountains are a popular place in Utah to chase bears.

Under Utah’s hunting regulations, bear pursuers, known as houndsmen, are not allowed to target cubs or mothers with cubs. They may use no more than 16 dogs in a single pursuit, or eight during the summer. Once a bear is treed, it must be allowed a pathway to escape and the pursuit may not be resumed. The spring pursuit season this year ran from April 3 to May 31.

Many aspects of that first pursuit were problematic, but where it crossed the line into criminality was when they put the animal in a box and held it captive, Maynard said.

Ward argued that Stubbs could not have “captured” the bear because if was so incapacitated it could not even walk. But Stubbs had participated in the underlying chase that resulted in the animal’s collapse, and whether the bear could escape was irrelevant, Maynard said.

The agency “places an emphasis on respecting wildlife we hunt. The act of hunting is a form of appreciation for wildlife and the opportunities they provide,” he told the board. “We have rules to preserve our opportunity to hunt and enjoy wildlife. This is not what bear pursuit is about and the longevity of this sport depends on upholding the legal and ethical obligations of houndsmen.”

For his criminal conviction, Stubbs was given a one-year suspended jail sentence, paid $1,500 fine and performed 52 hours of community service.

Wood, meanwhile, faces serious legal jeopardy in Florida, where authorities have seized his dogs and filed charges of racketeering, animal abuse and wildlife violations stemming from a series of illegal bear hunts, some of which Wood allegedly celebrated on social media with video posts showing dogs assaulting prone bears.

Wood is free on bail awaiting trial in Florida, then later in Moab’s 7th District Court.

Legislators approve block on hunting and fishing licenses for Utahns who owe child support

Tom Smart, KSL, File

By Sahalie Donaldson, KSL | Posted – Mar. 10, 2020 at 7:03 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah may soon implement a law that would force Utahns to prioritize paying child support over hunting and fishing.

Legislation that would bar the state from issuing annual hunting and fishing licenses or permits to a person who owes at least $2,500 in child support payments soared through the Senate Tuesday with a single dissenting vote. HB197 will now go before the governor for his signature or veto.

A number of other states have done this and seen a dramatic increase in their collections, said Senate sponsor Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

During a Feb. 11 committee meeting, bill sponsor Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said almost $400 million in child support has yet to be collected in Utah — a sum that impacts more than 112,000 children.

For this reason, the bill’s impact could be widespread.

An earlier iteration of the bill would have applied to more than 21,000 people who purchased a hunting or fishing license and are delinquent on paying child support. However, it was narrowed after the Utah Department of Natural Resources expressed concerns that state revenue and federal funds would have been reduced over $1.5 million a year with its implementation.

The narrowed version of the bill reduced the sum to about $400,000 a year as it would allow restoration of the license after the parent makes an effort to set up a payment plan with recovery services. This would apply to about 6,700 Utahns, according to Lisonbee.

Permits typically cost about $38 for a license and around $10 for a big game draw application.

Red-state Utah embraces plan to tackle climate crisis in surprising shift

Utah aims to reduce emissions over air quality concerns as other red states are also starting to tackle global heating

A skier in Park City, Utah. The majority of the population lives in mountain valleys where in winter, temperature inversions can trap air pollutants.
 A skier in Park City, Utah. The majority of the population lives in mountain valleys where in winter, temperature inversions can trap air pollutants. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

In a move to protect its ski slopes and growing economy, Utah – one of the reddest states in the nation – has just created a long-term plan to address the climate crisis.

“If we don’t think about Utah’s long-term future, who will?” Republican state house speaker Brad Wilson said at a recent focus group to discuss the proposals.

At the request of the Republican-dominated state legislature, a University of Utah economic thinktank produced the plan to reduce emissions affecting both the local air quality and the global climate.

But now the perspectives of some state lawmakers – and of Holst, who spent most of his career in the oil and gas industry – have shifted.

“The economist Adam Smith talked about an invisible hand that guides the economy, and in this particular case, the cost of renewable energy, whether it’s wind or solar, has gone down so rapidly and made itself so market efficient versus fossil fuels, that there is a change, and the change can’t be ignored,” Holst said. “So now is the opportunity for a state like Utah which is rich in both renewables as well as fossil fuels to embrace that change and get out ahead of it.”

Other red states and municipalities are slowly starting to address global heating. After banning the words “climate change” from state environmental agencies, Florida now has a chief resilience officer tasked with preparing for sea level rise. After a year of disastrous flooding, Nebraska lawmakers advanced a bill to develop a climate change plan for a full legislative debate.

Utah prides itself on being business friendly – and it has a rapidly growing tech sector concerned about environmental issues, as well as booming tourist economy that revolves around the ski industry and public lands.

The Utah plan, known as the Utah Roadmap, began, like a number of recent environmental initiatives, with young people clamoring for action. High school students drafted a resolution that recognized the impacts of the climate crisis and encouraged emissions reductions, and persuaded two Republican lawmakers to sponsor it. Environmental advocates say it was the first measure of its kind to pass in a red state. The legislature followed up with state money for experts to provide policy recommendations.

State house speaker Brad Wilson: ‘If we don’t think about Utah’s long-term future, who will?’
 State house speaker Brad Wilson: ‘If we don’t think about Utah’s long-term future, who will?’ Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Another factor that has primed Utah leaders to address the climate crisis is the state’s unique air quality issues. The majority of the population lives in mountain valleys where in winter, temperature inversions can trap air pollutants, often reaching levels that impact health, particularly among children and the elderly.

“It cuts across political lines. [Clean air] is not a partisan issue in our state,” said Utah speaker Wilson. He said there is not the same kind of consensus on climate change in the legislature, but “there is absolutely overlap between air quality concerns we have and reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

Natalie Gochnour, the head of the economic policy institute that drafted the Utah Roadmap, said its proponents managed to turn a hyper-partisan issue into a shared priority by emphasizing the local impacts of the climate crisis. Research suggests that framing policy around economic benefits and sustainability allows local leaders to respond to climate change without getting caught up in political divisions.

“That tends to pull some of the politics out of it – not for everybody – but for many. I think enough to create momentum on Capitol Hill,” Gochnour said.

Clean air concerns are also the reason officials are pushing Utah gas refineries to produce cleaner gasoline, and when the Trump administration announced plans to roll back clean car standards, Utah’s bipartisan clean air caucus held a press conference urging Congress to resist the move.

Holst, the roadmap project lead, acknowledged that blue coastal states have taken the initiative on ameliorating climate change, but he sees potential for Utah. “Is there an opportunity for a red state to take a leadership role? We believe that there is. And by composing a road map, by encouraging our legislative leaders to embrace this, we believe that there can be a change, and that Utah will be willing to take a leadership role,” he said.

Utah’s per capita carbon emissions are higher than most states, in part because it’s nearly twice as reliant on coal, but utilities serving Utah customers plan to close many of their coal power plants by 2030, converting to wind, solar, natural gas, and possibly hydrogen. Republican state lawmaker Melissa Garff Ballard has an ambitious plan to make Utah a source of hydrogen power serving the western US.

Among the Utah Roadmap’s top priorities is to reduce CO2 emissions by half over the next decade – a challenge for a state with a growing population. The plan suggests focusing on energy-efficient buildings and clean transportation options. It recommends expanding Utah’s network of charging stations, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles, and involving auto dealers in strategies to increase the zero-emissions vehicle supply.

“What I’m interested in is a viable future for the state of Utah,” Republican state representative Stephen Handy said. “There are still a number of Utah legislators who don’t want to look at the science that’s very obvious on climate change, but we’ve come a long way.”

  • This article was amended on 19 February 2020 to clarify Brad Wilson’s comments on clean air.

Man pleads “not guilty” in unlawful trapping case

    Wildlife officials allege that suspect involved in new violation

    Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 1:53 pm | Updated: 1:57 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2018.

    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.”

    Moab business owner could lose hunting privileges after poaching case, DWR says

    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, File

    By Carter Williams,

    MOAB — The owner of La Sal Mountain Outfitters who recently pleaded guilty to felony wanton destruction of protected wildlife in connection with a 2016 case may also lose his hunting privileges for his role in poaching a cow elk, wildlife officials said.

    Mark Thayn, 57, of Moab, pleaded guilty to the third-degree felony on Feb. 20, after he was charged with two other third-degree felonies and six other misdemeanors and infractions in 2017. He was placed on a three-year probation and eight other counts against him were dropped as a part of the plea.

    In addition, Thayn agreed to pay $750 in restitution for the loss of the cow elk poached in 2016 and a $950 fine. Thayn’s conviction could be moved to a Class A misdemeanor after paying the fines and his probation, according to the plea agreement.

    Thayn was accused of asking two California men to pay $2,000 each for a partially-guided cow elk hunt on a private property in 2016. When the men arrived in Utah, Thayn fraudulently charged the men an additional $400 for the licenses and gave them elk permits acquired from unsuccessful hunters several weeks prior, according to Division of Natural Resources officer Adam Wallerstein in a statement.

    The men killed a cow elk and were attempting to harvest another when they were contacted by wildlife officers.

    Wallerstein said Thayn will also pay restitution to the California hunters defrauded. Wallerstein added Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will pursue suspending Thayn’s hunting privileges in Utah and 46 other states for as much as seven years.

    Wildlife officials said Thayn’s outfitting business was a legitimate licensing agent for the agency at the time the licenses were fraudulently sold in 2016.

    Fur trapper charged with six misdemeanors after illegal beaver trap killed hiker’s dog in Utah canyon

    While hiking in a canyon near Moab with his teenage owner last month, an Australian/pit bull mix got caught in a beaver trap.

    The trap, designed to collapse on the body of the animals it catches, instantly killed the dog.

    Investigators with the Division of Wildlife Resources tracked down the owner of the trap, which wasn’t modified to the state’s requirements.

    On Feb. 11, the Moab teenager and her dog were hiking in Hunter Canyon, about 8 miles west of town. The dog ran toward a small stream, became ensnared in the trap and fell into the water, according to Wolford.

    The trap killed the dog before the teenager had a chance to free her pet.

    “Our hearts definitely go out to the young girl here, and her family, because they lost a family member. We understand that and we’re very sorry,” Wolford said.

    The box-shaped trap in question — with a roughly 12-inch-square opening — should have been modified to prevent animals that aren’t the trap’s target from triggering it, Wolford said.

    The trapper has been charged in Grand County Justice Court with six counts of unlawful methods of trapping, a class B misdemeanor. Three of the counts are for an unmodified trigger on the body-gripping trap. The other three are for having an unmarked trap.

    The trapper has entered not guilty pleas and requested a bench trial, which is scheduled for April 11.

    “It’s a very rare thing for something like this to happen,” Wolford repeated, adding, “but it does.”

    Some 15 years ago, a fly fisherman’s dog was killed in a beaver trap near Kamas, in the Peoa area, he said. That dog and the one in Moab have been the only ones killed by traps “for a long time,” he said.

    More common is dogs getting snared, but not seriously hurt, in leg-hold traps — for example, a wire loop that tightens, or the traditional trap with a steel jaw that snaps closed (those are required by law to include a spacer that creates a gap around the animal’s bone).

    The traps sting and the dogs whine, but they aren’t permanently hurt, Wolford said, comparing the pain to getting a finger snapped up in a mouse trap.

    Dogs are usually rescued, but he has heard stories of dogs getting trapped and then dying from something else, such as starvation or dehydration.

    But that shouldn’t happen, Wolford said, because trappers are required to check their traps every 48 hours. Once or twice he has rescued a pet that had gotten stuck after the season ended in an abandoned trap someone forgot about.

    Or, he has heard of dogs getting ensnared, then falling into streams and drowning.

    Just over six years ago, a Sandy family’s dog drowned in the city’s Creekside Park after a different type of beaver trap snared the animal around the neck. The 4-year-old dog died, according to a 2012 Salt Lake Tribune story.

    So far this season, Wolford said, he has freed one or two dogs from traps.

    “This year has actually been pretty quiet,” he added.

    Not every dog owner calls authorities when their pet gets trapped, if they can work the trap themselves. The DWR doesn’t keep records of how many pets it frees unless the trap was illegal.

    But Wolford could say that during some fur trapping seasons, he has freed 10 to 15 dogs.

    Between the season’s dates of late September to March or April (depending on the animal), trappers place traps on ledges, near streams and around big rocks and trees, according to Wolford.

    There is no state regulation that requires trappers to stay away from hiking trails.

    “We try to encourage our trappers to stay away from populated areas … but they don’t always do that. They have free choice to go wherever they’d like to go,” Wolford said. “All we can do is give them suggestions.”

    He doesn’t want that to discourage anyone from going outside.

    “We live in a great state and have a lot of awesome natural resources right by town,” he said.

    Just keep your pets within sight, he added.

    “You’ve got the hikers, you’ve got your hunters, you’ve got your trappers, you’ve got your fishermen,” Wolford said. “It’s important to recreate together.”


    Teen’s dog killed in illegal beaver trap near trailhead

      Thursday, February 22, 2018 .

      It all happened so fast that there was nothing Ali Hirt could do to save her dog Stoic earlier this month when he was fatally caught in an illegal beaver trap in Kane Creek.

      But the Grand County High School student is determined to help prevent similar tragedies from occurring by raising awareness about the potential threats of wildlife traps in popular recreation areas near dog-loving Moab.

      “I’d just like Moab to have to think about it – that there is this danger out there – and I would like trappers to consider the risk they’re putting everyone at when they’re setting these traps,” she said.

      Hirt, whose grandfather is a trapper, sees no reason why trappers should be placing the devices so close to the city limits.

      “I feel like there should be something done about restrictions as to where (someone) can set a trap, especially near such populated areas,” she said.

      Hirt adopted her 2-year-old Australian shepherd/pit bull mix and his brother Neko from La Sal when they were old enough to be taken away from their mother. She remembers Stoic in particular as a super-happy, “really loyal” and goofy canine companion.

      “He was very special to me,” she said. “He was my best friend.”

      Since she first took them in, Hirt and her dogs had gone just about everywhere around Moab, but she singled out the Kane Springs area as her favorite place to hike.

      With two of her friends in tow, they set off for the area on Saturday, Feb. 10, parking her van near the mouth of Hunter Canyon.

      They had been hiking for perhaps less than a minute when Stoic – who loved the water – went straight toward Kane Creek. Almost immediately, he began to struggle; Hirt’s first thought was that he was somehow entangled in a coat hanger.

      When it became clear that he was stuck in a trap, she and a friend jumped in after him and tried to pull it off, but it was too late: Within a minute, Stoic was dead.

      Hirt and her friends were in shock; she couldn’t imagine that they would encounter a trap in a place that she visits so often.

      “I never thought I’d ever have to worry about something like this, especially in Moab,” Hirt said. “It’s something you shouldn’t have to worry about.”

      A couple heard them screaming, and a man carried Stoic back to her vehicle.

      With no cell phone service in the canyon, Hirt and her friends had to drive all the way to Matheson Wetlands before she was able to report the incident; she eventually took a Utah Department of Natural Resources officer back to the scene.

      State wildlife officials subsequently set up surveillance cameras in the area and identified the trapper; they also found three additional traps nearby, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Lt. Ben Wolford.

      The trapper, who has not been publicly identified, has a license to trap fur-bearing animals. But the trap that killed Stoic was not legally registered, according to Wolford.

      “This particular trap did not have a register number on it, and that’s where the violations came in,” he said.

      As of Tuesday, Feb. 20, Wolford could only say that the DWR is pursuing a charge of “failure to tag.”

      “But we’re still looking at other things,” he said.

      Wolford said the suspect will likely be charged with class B misdemeanor offenses – although no charges had been filed in Grand County Justice Court as of Wednesday, Feb. 21.

      “I don’t think there are formal charges yet, but there could be (this week),” he said.

      No laws against trapping in season

      While there are no state laws against beaver trapping in most areas during the fur-bearer season, the division strongly recommends that trappers avoid setting traps near trails that hikers and dog walkers use frequently.

      “It’s not illegal, but we do encourage trappers to stay away from areas that are frequented by trail users and others who are out to enjoy natural areas,” Wolford said.

      The current trapping season for beavers in Utah began on Sept. 23, 2017, and it’s scheduled to end on April 4.

      Usually, Wolford said, trappers try to stay away from more populated areas because beavers are less common there. But during the season, hikers, dog walkers and others may encounter traps around ledges, rocks and some waterways, he said.

      “It is trapping season, so there is a higher risk of them running into traps out there,” Wolford said. “We want people to be aware that this is a possibility.”

      Although it’s legal today, beaver trapping is somewhat anachronistic in the 21st Century.

      “It’s not like it was in the olden times when it was sustenance for food and trading and stuff like that,” Wolford said.

      Tens of millions of beaver once occupied streams and other riparian areas across the West, but trappers decimated their numbers in the 19th Century. The species’ population across North America has since rebounded to an estimated 10 to 15 million individuals.

      Today, not many people in Utah trap beaver, unless particular “nuisance” animals are damaging canals or other agricultural infrastructure. In this instance, Wolford said, there were no reports of nuisance animals along Kane Creek or Hunter Canyon.

      “Down in that area, there wasn’t any issue like that,” he said.

      Wolford said the suspect used a “kill trap” that was designed to suffocate animals.

      “They’re a very powerful trap,” Wolford said. “You usually need a special tool to open them up.”

      While there are other ways to open such traps, Wolford said it’s much harder for someone who is not familiar with them to remove the devices. The likelihood that anyone could rescue an animal in time to save his or her life is remote, he said.

      Hirt said the springs on the trap were so strong that the device had to be sawed off Stoic’s neck, and it disturbs her to imagine what could have happened under another scenario.

      “It could have been a kid; it could have been one of my friends, and there would have been nothing that we could have done (to help),” she said.

      Leashes not required at most BLM sites

      U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Bryant said her agency requires visitors with pets to leash their animals at established campgrounds and designated recreation sites. But leashes are optional in other areas that the agency administers, she said.

      In places where leashes are required, Bryant said, the BLM does post signs at trailheads and campgrounds. But Bryant said it would be impractical to install signs at other locations, so the BLM works instead to raise public awareness about the potential threat of wildlife traps, and encourages people to leash their dogs.

      “We usually approach it more through a general education campaign,” she said.

      Unfortunately, she said, BLM officials have no way of knowing where wildlife traps are, either.

      “So we don’t have any ways to manage that,” Bryant said.

      But the agency is always open to suggestions about ways it could reduce the odds that something similar will happen again, she said, extending the agency’s condolences to Hirt and her family.

      “It’s horribly, horribly unfortunate, and our hearts do go out to the pet owners,” she said. “For many people, pets are family members.”

      After poaching a desert bighorn in Utah, prominent Arizona guide loses hunting rights in 47 states

      A jury in Kanab found that Larry Altimus, 69, faked living in Utah to secure one of the coveted big-game tags considered ‘huge in the hunting world.’

      Most big-game hunters can go their entire lives and never get a chance to legally shoot one of Utah’s desert bighorn sheep, a privilege reserved for fewer than 40 lucky hunters each year.

      After 21 failed tries, Arizona big-game hunting guide Larry Altimus finally landed such a permit in 2014 soon after taking up residence in Kanab, the Utah town on the Arizona line in the heart of desert bighorn country. But a jury later determined that Altimus was merely pretending to be a Utah resident for the sake of taking one of the state’s most valuable wildlife trophies.

      In addition to a felony conviction and more than $30,000 in fines and restitution, the act of fraud will also now cost Altimus his hunting privileges, under a recent decision by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hearing officer. The ban will apply not just in Utah, but 46 other states as well.

      While Altimus may still guide hunting clients, he cannot hunt for the next 10 years, according to DWR spokesman Mark Hadley.

      “He not only stole the permit. He used the permit he wasn’t entitled to to kill an animal,” Hadley said.

      Based in the southeast Arizona town of Pearce, Altimus, 69, operates his company Hunter Application Service and guides hunters in pursuit of trophy animals in several Western states. Altimus, who did not return a phone message Monday, has hunted and guided hundreds of times in the Southwest and has appeared on industry magazine covers with his trophies.

      Bighorn sheep are among the most coveted big-game species to hunt. Utah’s system for issuing tags for such hunts gives an advantage to those who have tried and failed to get permits in past years.

      Hunters earn a bonus point each time they unsuccessfully apply for a particular big-game species. Altimus actively sought these Utah tags, and by 2013, he had amassed 21 points toward a desert bighorn sheep, more points than earned by any in-state hunter, according to court records.

      Even with this trove of points, the chance Altimus would draw a nonresident bighorn sheep permit were still slim.

      “But if he claimed residency in Utah, he knew he had a good chance of drawing a permit reserved for Utah residents,” said DWR director Mike Fowlks.

      Under Utah law, however, hunters are not to obtain a resident hunting permit if they move to the state for a “special or temporary purpose.” As someone who makes a living helping clients obtain hunting tags, Altimus was well aware of the rules, according to Kane County prosecutor Jeff Stott.

      At trial last July, Stott had to convince a jury that Altimus knowingly took steps to illegally game Utah’s system for awarding sheep tags, which can auction for as high as $70,000.

      In 2014, according to DWR data, 5,174 Utah hunters vied for 35 desert bighorn tags, while 7,184 nonresidents vied for three.

      “This is a big tag,” Stott said. “It’s huge in the hunting world.”

      Big enough, it appears, for Altimus to uproot his life for a few months.

      In August 2013, he rented a house in Kanab, moved his belongings there and obtained a Utah driver license, according to Stott. Using the Kanab address, Altimus applied the following March, not long after meeting the six-month threshold for residency, and drew a permit to take a bighorn from the famed Zion hunting unit — just one of 11 awarded that year.

      “We proved it was all for this permit,” Stott said. A few weeks after winning the tag, Altimus moved back to Arizona, then returned for the fall hunt, where he bagged a ram.

      After three days of testimony in Kanab’s 6th District Court, the jury returned a guilty verdict for wanton destruction of wildlife, a third-degree felony. Judge Wallace Lee ordered Altimus to pay DWR $30,000 in restitution, payable in monthly payments of $1,000 as part of his three months on probation. He also lost his right to possess a firearm and hunt in Utah during that period. Officials had already seized the ram trophy, whose prodigious horns curled into a full circle.

      But the real punishment was meted out by DWR, which filed a petition to revoke Altimus’ hunting privileges for 10 years in the states participating in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which includes all 50 states but Delaware, Massachusetts and Hawaii.

      A hearing officer affirmed the recommendation, although the order could be appealed to the Utah Wildlife Board.

      Threatened Utah prairie dogs have their day in court … and win

      Environmentalists praised the three-judge appeals court panel’s decision overturning an earlier ruling and protecting the foot-long rodents, which property rights activists say threaten farm animals and development with their massive underground colonies.

      “This is huge, not only for the prairie dog but for the Endangered Species Act,” Michael Harris, legal director for Friends of Animals, a conservation group involved in the case, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

      The plaintiffs in the case, People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, had argued that the federal government did not have authority over a species that existed only in one state.

      They said that while they acknowledge the importance of the species, known to build vast underground networks of tunnels, which have been found under cemeteries and golf courses, they would ask for a review of the panel’s decision by the full court.

      “Let it be on the prairie, let it be on land away from the developments,” Brett Taylor, the group’s vice president, told Reuters.

      Distinguished by a black “eyebrow” marking over each eye, Utah prairie dogs numbered about 95,000 around 1920, but by 1972 their population had fallen to about 3,300 due to disease and people killing them.

      The extremely social species was declared endangered the following year, but after its numbers grew again it was reclassified as threatened. Populations remain precariously low, according to the National Park Service.

      Wednesday’s ruling affirmed the existing standard of allowing the federal government to limit local development using the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law intended to protect species at risk of extinction.

      In the majority opinion, Judge Jerome Holmes wrote that overturning the earlier ruling was in line with actions by previous circuit courts, which have ruled uniformly to protect the Endangered Species Act in similar cases.

      (Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Patrick Enright and Andrew Hay)

      EPA investigates Utahn’s poisoning – 4 years after device shot cyanide in his face

      This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
      Published January 18, 2008

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into the poisoning four years ago of a Vernal man who touched what he thought was a survey stake, only to get a blast of sodium cyanide to his face and chest.

      The cyanide device, called an M-44, is used by the federal government to kill predators. The poisoning has left Dennis Slaugh with severe health problems, his wife, Dorothy Slaugh, said Thursday.

      And it has reignited a campaign to ban all predator poisoning on federal lands.

      EPA investigator Michael Burgin visited the Slaugh home Monday for a two-hour meeting, which Slaugh said she taped with Burgin’s knowledge. The special investigator was looking into why federal agencies did not follow up on the Slaughs’ original reports, she said.

      Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon pushed for the investigation at the request of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group based in Eugene, Ore.

      “He has been a really good ally trying to get these weapons banned permanently so no one will have to suffer the way my husband has suffered,” Slaugh said of DeFazio.

      Dennis Slaugh and his brother were riding all-terrain vehicles on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Cowboy Canyon near Bonanza in 2003 when Slaugh noticed what he thought was a survey stake. He reached to brush it off and it fell over. When he picked it up, it exploded, sending a cloud ofgranules into his nose, mouth and eyes.

      The M-44 device was spring-loaded to shoot poison into a predator’s mouth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program is the only agency allowed to use the M-44 to poison coyotes and dogs to prevent livestock loss.

      But when the Slaughs told the USDA and the BLM about their experience, the agencies denied responsibility and eventually informed them the statute of limitations on the family’s claims had run out.

      “We were just asking for compensation. We’ve got medical bills. They just flat denied everything,” Dorothy Slaugh said.

      On Monday, she said, Burgin told her that time on the claim would run out in May.

      Cyanide clings to iron in the blood system and slowly depletes the heart and other muscles of oxygen.

      Dennis Slaugh, 65, has extremely high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, vomits almost daily and can no longer work as a Caterpillar D8 driver for Uintah County because he is too weak to climb up into the machine’s rungs.

      The couple, avid ATV riders and campers, have owned Mountain High Power Sports in Vernal for 35 years. “We’re fine, we’re OK. It’s just taken a lot out of him,” Dorothy Slaugh said.

      Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, said his organization started the push to ban all predator poisoning on federal lands in 1994, when a woman was poisoned while trying to resuscitate her dog after the animal bit an M-44 a USDA employee had set on her private property at the request of a tenant farmer.

      DeFazio has been an ally since then, Fahy said.

      In late November, DeFazio prodded the EPA with a letter that Fahy said was “instrumental” in finally getting federal action on the Slaughs’ claim.

      The congressman is sponsoring a bill in the House to ban all predator poisons.