Local rancher prevails in illegal-trapping case
The outcome of a Pitkin County Court case may overturn Amendment 14, a 1996 citizens initiative which outlawed some kinds of trapping.
In a verdict handed down by Judge Tam Scott Monday, Basalt Rancher John Jacob “Jack” Gredig was found not guilty of illegal trapping, on the grounds that Amendment 14 is unconstitutional. As in all cases which challenge the constitutionality of a state law, Gredig’s acquittal will automatically be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. A court date for the appeal has not been set.
Gredig, a former Pitkin County road and bridge supervisor, received a summons on Aug. 4 after he turned himself in for setting four snares on his own sheep ranch on Emma Road in Basalt. Attempting to trap predators with such snares was made illegal by Amendment 14.
Judge Scott’s ruling sustained an argument by defense attorney Marcia Swain that Amendment 14 “represents an improper control of administration of wildlife by citizens initiative” because it violates a part of the state constitution prohibiting citizens initiatives from intruding on the administrative functions of the executive branch of state government. Ordinarily, state wildlife management regulations come from a board called the Colorado Wildlife Commission, which is appointed by the governor’s office.
“That’s fabulous. I’m very pleased,” Swain said. She said wildlife management decisions should be made by Colorado Division of Wildlife officials, who can be more responsive to animal population fluctuations and other circumstances than can the voters.
Legal opinions differ as to whether the provisions of Amendment 14 remain enforceable until the outcome of the appeal. Swain said that Amendment 14 and laws created by the Colorado Legislature to implement its enforcement were all struck down statewide by the ruling, and would be restored only if the appeal is successful.
But Bob Weiner, chief deputy district attorney, disagreed. He said, in his opinion, Amendment 14 will be enforceable at least until a decision by the Supreme Court upholds Scott’s decision. The reason, he said, is that a decision in a county court, the lowest court in the land, cannot bar enforcement of a law on a statewide basis.
“It would be my opinion that it does not affect the amendment even within Pitkin County,” Weiner said.
Local attorneys, who asked not want to be identified, generally concurred with Weiner, saying enforcement of the law would not be affected until the decision is supported by a ruling in a court with statewide jurisdiction.
Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said he didn’t know what the division’s next move would be in regulating trapping.
“We’ll have to look at the specifics of the ruling to know what will be expected of Division of Wildlife officers,” Malmsbury said.
Even though the law was ruled unconstitutional in the Gredig case, other trapping regulations will still be in effect, Malmsbury said. For example, in 1995, before Amendment 14, the Wildlife Commission introduced regulations which banned the use of steel-jawed traps and prohibited trapping of a number of species, he said.
“I’d certainly advise people not to rush out and set a lot of traps until we fully understand what this court ruling means,” Malmsbury said.
Gredig’s defense was paid for by a Saguache-based organization called Wildlife Organizations Legal Fund, formed to overturn Amendment 14. The case is one of four statewide being promoted by the fund.
Swain, who has represented all four defendants, said defendants in Chaffee and Saguache Counties were convicted, and will appeal. The fourth case, in Moffat County, was dismissed. She said that defendant may violate the law again, in order to continue the challenge.
“We don’t know if our client will attempt to be cited again,” Swain said.
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