A mountain lion has been sedated after accidentally being trapped in Nevada. She was released, though her injuries led to her eventual death. Photo courtesy of Nevada Department of Wildlife

With efforts underway across the country to restrict animal trapping, Wyoming was poised this week to take a step in the other direction with a plan to make the trapping of mountain lions legal.

The legalization bill, however, failed in the state Legislature on Tuesday amid a storm of opposition from wildlife advocates, scientists and sportsmen.

“It really is indiscriminate,” said Sam Krone, a Republican state representative who voted against the bill. “It not only could affect the lion population, but it could affect other animals and other wildlife.”

The vote occurred against a backdrop of growing concern about the grisly and unintended consequences of trapping, which has injured and killed dozens of species by mistake in recent years, as Reveal reported last month.

Trapping of mountain lions is legal in only two states: Texas and New Mexico, where a season opens this fall on private land. The bill to allow it in Wyoming was authored by state Rep. Jim Allen and others who pitched it as a way to help increase mule deer numbers.

But the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, the largest and oldest pro-hunting group in the state, disagreed.

“There is no scientific basis to this argument,” Steve Kilpatrick, a field scientist for the federation, said on the group’s website. “Mule deer are in decline because of a lack of suitable habitat, development, and disease.”

More resistance came from wildlife advocacy groups, which gathered more than 8,500 signatures and comments opposing the bill in an online petition.

“This is a huge win for Wyoming’s people and mountain lions,” said Mark Elbroch, puma program scientist for Panthera, a global big cat conservation and research organization. “The potential negative consequences … would have been far-reaching.”  

Two days after the vote, trapping was back in the news in another state – New Mexico – where several species have been caught by mistake in traps, including family pets.

 “For people who love the outdoors, New Mexico is truly a magical place,” wrote Robert Basler, in a column for the Santa Fe Reporter.

“You can hike for miles and miles on public land, marvel over indescribable vistas, gasp at exotic wildlife (and) desperately try to free your faithful dog from a hidden steel trap.”

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Tom Knudson is a reporter for Reveal, covering the environment. He is the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and a 2004 award for global environmental reporting from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Reuters. Over the years, he has reported on a wide range of subjects, including the abuse of migrant forest workers in the American West, overfishing in Mexico's Sea of Cortez and the environmental degradation of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. Knudson is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.