A yellow diamond-shaped road sign near the entrance of La Cañada Flintridge’s Paradise Valley neighborhood that features a single prancing buck makes it clear one is entering deer country.
Adjacent to the Angeles National Forest, the neighborhood is home to at least one local herd that meanders from canyon to hillside, occasionally napping on a patio or nibbling at native plants.
“We see deer here maybe every other day,” said Steve Newsom, whose Normanton Drive home is a popular hangout. “When it’s sunny and warm, they’re here.”
People mostly leave the animals alone. So, Newsom was shocked on Sept. 20 to see a months-old fawn near his house hobbling with a trap on its leg. He took photos and contacted a member of the homeowner’s association, who alerted the neighborhood.
“The young deer’s leg is swollen and if the trap is not removed it will probably lose its leg,” read the email, accompanied by a troubling photo.
Conibear, or “body-gripping” traps, illegal in California, use pressure rather than teeth to hold and kill prey. Once thought humane for delivering an instant kill, they often snag smaller unintended victims and leave them struggling for days.
Upset neighbors dialed city hall, the Pasadena Humane Society, U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the last of which has the authority over such matters.
“Everybody kept circling back with Fish and Wildlife,” Ocean View Boulevard homeowner Lia Lee, who’s become the main contact for officials in the past two weeks. “I’ve been told so many times, ‘We’re all going to help you,’ and nothing happens. It’s been so long this poor thing has been suffering.”
A CDFW biologist installed a camera in Newsom’s backyard on Sept. 25 and collected it two days later, saying sightings were inconsistent and certain conditions had to be met before capture could be arranged.
Talks with a warden, wildlife director and hotline dispatchers bore no fruit. Lee used a Google map to track sightings. On Oct. 6, it looked like a biologist might come out with a tranquilizer and a veterinarian, but it got too dark and the mission was called off.
The matter was escalated to CDFW Capt. John Laughlin, who oversees 26 officers in North Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and visited the La Cañada neighbors Oct. 8.
“The biggest thing we need to do is find it. That’s been the problem this week — there’ve been two sightings and by the time we get there, the deer’s gone,” he said. “If I can get this trap off this fawn’s leg and give it a chance in the wild…I’ll do it.”
Fish and Wildlife employs law enforcement officers to investigate illegal trapping, a misdemeanor offense that can incur fines and even probation, but locating offenders is difficult.
“I doubt we’ll find a trapper running around La Cañada,” Laughlin said, guessing the conibear device may have been placed by someone wishing to trap a different species, or possibly by a curious youth.
Lien Yang lives two doors down from Newsom’s house on Normanton Drive and once recorded the male fawn, beginning to sprout tiny pedicels, on video.
“We want to save this fawn as soon as possible, and we want to prevent this from happening again in the future,” Yang said. “If this little guy survives, I would call him Norman.”
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