A huge wolf trots across the snow, its neck bloodied from a thin piece of steel cable wrapped around its throat.
The image is one of dozens in the collection amassed by activist and nature writer Dwight Rodtka, a former predator control officer who earned a portion of his living from the war on wolves.
Now retired and living near Rocky Mountain House, Rodtka says he is growing increasingly concerned about provincial regulations that he feels turn a blind eye to snaring — a trapping method that he describes as indiscriminate and extraordinarily cruel.
Riffling through his stack, Rodtka shows a picture of a coyote caught in a snare, its head swollen to twice its normal size from edema after fighting for at least a day to free itself.
Rodtka has stories of a moose with its nose cut off in snares, another coyote that chewed off its own foot to escape a snare and further evidence of other animals that suffered prolonged and painful deaths in similar contraptions.
He says he is aware of a rancher near Rocky who got a permit from the province allowing him to snare wolves that were bothering his cattle.
“In one week, these traps snared and caused the deaths of one wolf pup, one or two whitetail deer, one black bear and one grizzly bear,” says Rodtka.
“If this typical example is extrapolated to the thousands of snares blanketing the West Country, the magnitude of bycatch killing could be staggering. Even yearling cattle have been found with snares around their legs.”
Rodtka says Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) has strict regulations governing the use of kill traps, but that snares are exempted from those regulations.
He and others who share his concerns, including a group of activists who met in Red Deer last winter, have been putting pressure on provincial officials to review and update Alberta’s rules and policies to eliminate the use of snares that can cause hours and even days of suffering to the animals they are supposed to kill.
Snares are preferred for higher orders of species such as wolves because the animals are too smart to put their heads into a more visible trap, says Rodtka. But the consequences are devastating, in part because the traps don’t kill within the 300 seconds recommended by the Fur Institute of Canada, he says.
“The (provincial) government classifies them (snares) as a lethal killing device. But some way or another, they’ve exempted them from the criteria that applies to traps.”
But statements made by Rodtka and others who share his concerns have come under fire from the president of the Alberta Trappers Association for being outdated and for giving a misleading impression of the methods and practices now in use.
Gordy Klassen makes his living off his trapline, his store and the wilderness education courses he offers to fellow trappers and wildlife managers.
Based in the Grande Prairie area, Klassen says Canada’s fur industry, including trappers, farmers, activists, government and other interest groups, set about to update and refine regulations about 25 years, ago in response to a backlash from Europeans who were horrified to see pictures of baby seals being clubbed to death in Newfoundland.
To protect their markets in Europe, fur traders in Canada, Russia and the United States looked for ways to improve their methods and get their industry back into step with growing concerns about animal welfare, says Klassen.
Over the past 25 years, they have established new methods and standards to ensure that animals do not suffer when they are harvested for fur, either in the wilds or on fur farms, he says.
The standards include trap and snare designs that ensure the quickest possible death and to prevent bycatch — the accidental capture of non-target animals.
For example, snares can be designed with stops that prevent them from closing on anything as small as a deer’s nose or a cow’s foot. Bears would normally be safe from snares because they are in hibernation during the prime trapping season in winter, when furs are full and lustrous, says Klassen.
He says Canadian and international standards have been written into the regulations governing trappers in Alberta, where research is ongoing into improving trap designs and methods.
Wolves are among the animals sought for their lustrous winter coats and are also subject to bounties in areas where they have been harassing livestock or big game herds, he says.
Prices for wolf hides in 2013 averaged $155 apiece, while bounties on problem animals have ranged from $300 to $500.
The bounties — also called incentives — are offered by a variety of organizations that have an interest in controlling wolf populations, including big game groups and rural municipalities.
Wolf bounties are offered in some northern areas, but are not offered in Central Alberta counties where wolf packs are known to roam, including Clearwater, Ponoka and Mountain View.
Each incentive program comes with a set of rules concerning who is eligible to receive the rewards, including requirements for membership in one or more named associations, such as the Alberta Trappers Association, says Klassen.
Carrie Sancartier, a public affairs officer with ESRD, says the province oversees the programs, but is not directly involved in their administration and does not keep track of who is offering bounties or the amounts at which they have been set. Provincial officials have the authority to intervene as necessary, says Sancartier.
Wolf populations in Alberta are healthy and stable in the mountains, foothills and boreal regions, she says.
Sancartier was unable to confirm the figures Rodtka provided concerning the Rocky-area farmer’s snaring permit or the number of animals caught in the snares.
“We only have record of one grizzly bear being caught by a snare over the last 10 years,” she says.
“We are aware of the possibilities of catching non-target species and work to reduce this possibility. We support ongoing research to improve snare design and trapping practices that minimize the catch of non-target species. This is part of our commitment to implement the international agreement and ensure that furbearers are harvested in a safe, humane and ethical manner.”
Klassen says Alberta is at the forefront in looking after the welfare of fur-bearing animals.
Even so, there will be a problem from time to time because there are some people who choose to ignore the rules, he says.
He draws an analogy to traffic laws, designed to prevent collisions, but vulnerable to people who disobey them.
One truck flipped in the ditch does not mean everyone on the highway is a bad driver, says Klassen.