Cumberland Times-News

August 17, 2013

Official: Trap tampering ‘usually doesn’t help us’

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Officials of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish would like to catch the person who sabotaged a bear trap in an Albuquerque neighborhood on Tuesday.

They have the person’s photograph, taken by a trail camera stationed near the trap. The person in the photo has obscured his or her face.

The trap was set to catch a bear that broke into a house and bit the homeowner. The animal is considered dangerous. New Mexico law requires that a wild animal that bites a human be killed and tested for rabies.

In Maryland, the Wildlife & Heritage Service has been setting bear traps throughout the summer to catch and aversively condition nuisance bears.

Unless they are serious repeat offenders, the captured bears are doused with pepper spray, shot in the butt with rubber pellets and turned loose.

That bad experience, officials hope, will keep the animal from returning.

“We’ve had traps tampered with in a variety of ways over the years, but it doesn’t happen often,” said Wildlife Biologist Harry Spiker on Thursday. “We’ve had people tamper with them trying to give the bears a chance. For example they will close the door on the trap.”

More often, according to Spiker, well-meaning people hoping to help the state agency catch a bear will toss additional bait into the trap or make some sort of adjustment to it.

“That usually doesn’t help us despite their good intentions,” Spiker said.

“I've heard stories from other states where people have chained themselves to the traps or crawled inside the traps to keep a bear from getting in. Bears are much more predictable than people.”

Spiker said he heard about an incident in Maryland before he was employed in which a drunken homeowner opened the door of the trap while the bear was in it and very alert.

“Luckily, nobody was hurt,” Spiker said.

Allan Niederberger, a wildlife biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in Romney, said he has suspected a couple times that somebody messed with one of his bear traps, but could never document it.

“There was a snare or two that looked for sure that it had caught a bear and that the animal struggled, but there was no animal there,” Niederberger said.

“One time, it seemed as if someone had reset a trap that had been sprung,” he said.

The biologist said there is no concrete evidence or proof, but he has suspected that people who don’t like the fact that bears are being trapped may have interfered.

“As a percentage of our trapping efforts, though, it isn’t even measurable,” Niederberger said.

In New Mexico, wildlife officials said the saboteur has put others in danger because a bear known to have attacked a human remains at large.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at