Nevada investigators hunt for illegal trappers near hiking trail


Mike McCusker is on the trail of an irresponsible trapper.

For more than a week, the lieutenant with the Nevada Department of Wildlife led a team that operated around-the-clock surveillance on illegally set animal traps near a popular Sierra Nevada hiking trail.

Investigators waited in the brush to spring their own legal trap.

No arrests so far, but McCusker isn’t giving up.

“Where these guys set these traps just isn’t very bright,” he told the Los Angeles Times.


The department has asked for the public’s help to find who’s setting the traps, just off the popular Thomas Creek Trail southwest of Reno.

McCusker’s search comes as the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a report Wednesday ranking U.S. states for their laws against animal abuse. Nevada ranked 24th in terms of strong animal protection laws. California ranked third, after Illinois and Maine. The worst states were Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and New Mexico.

Based on what the nonprofit termed a comprehensive analysis of animal protection laws, the animal advocacy group found that many states lack felony provisions for neglect or abandonment, carry no provisions on sexual assault, no restrictions on future ownership for people previously convicted of animal abuse, no increased penalties when animal abuse is committed in front of children and no requirement that veterinarians report suspected animal abuse.

“As a former elected prosecutor who works with law enforcement daily in jurisdictions all over the country, I continue to be amazed at how grossly inadequate many state animal cruelty codes are,” ALDF’s criminal justice program director, Scott Heiser, noted in the report.

McCusker said that Nevada authorities take the matter seriously. His agency tracked down several tips to find at least two traps, he said. One held a bobcat, which was unharmed and later released.

“Bobcats are a common target species for trappers in the Sierra, because pelts can bring up to $800 apiece,” he told The Times. “It’s a legal activity when done right, but these traps happened to be placed in a spot where it’s illegal to set them.”

In addition to being in an area where trapping is prohibited, the traps went unchecked for longer than the four-day limit set to minimize the animals’ suffering, he added.

The agency has created a report line for its Operation Game Thief at (800) 992-3030.

“We think juveniles might be involved,” McCusker said. “We were out there day and night and think the trap-setters might have come out and seen us there and took off. This is a very busy area for hikers.”


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