Courtesy Ron Toahani
Bobcat caught in a leghold trap on the Navajo Nation. A Navajo citizen is trying to get the trapping practice, used to control wildlife, banned via a petition he is circulating on the Navajo Nation.

Ban Sought on Wildlife Leghold Traps on Navajo Nation

Harlan McKosato

A petition is circulating on the Navajo reservation to ban the use of steel-jaw leghold traps commonly used by hunters and trappers on Navajo lands to catch fur-bearing animals such as rabbits, deer, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions.

Navajo citizen Ron Toahani Jackson is spearheading the move, which he said is necessary for public safety and humanitarian reasons.

“Number one it’s a public safety issue,” Jackson told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Number two is what it does to an animal—the pain and suffering an animal goes through while in that trap. Number three, cultural and traditional values of Native people say that we are supposed to respect our animal brothers and sisters.”

Despite the fact that steel-jaw leghold traps have been outlawed in nearly 90 countries, it is a legal method of hunting here in the U.S. and in Canada. These traps are still used on Navajo lands for several reasons, including sustenance hunting, the fur trade, pest control and wildlife management.

“The use of steel leghold traps is accepted among the wildlife management community,” said Gloria Tom, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife. “A lot of times we have conflicts that occur between certain species—coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. They kill livestock.”

While acknowledging that leghold traps are inhumane, she said that wildlife threatening livestock must be controlled, and that the problem is not restricted to the Navajo Nation.

“There’s a balance somewhere that needs to be achieved,” Tom said. “Obviously there’s an issue about the humanness of traps, and issues pertaining to the humanness of hunting. That’s everywhere. That’s not just here on the Navajo Nation. It’s a worldwide issue.”

The petition is being circulated through the informal grassroots network on the reservation. Jackson said he wants to draw more notice from the media and in particular to gain the attention of Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

“We have gotten a worldwide response on this,” said Jackson. “The Navajo people need to know that we are being challenged. A lot of people say, ‘I thought you Indians were one with nature.’ I feel like I need to get this issue out there, and the worldwide condemnation of the way the Navajo Nation leadership is failing to address this issue.”

Jackson believes that the ban is meeting with government resistance because of the fur industry.

“As far as hunting, I’m not against that, as far as subsistence,” he said. “I’m against the way these animals suffer while they’re caught in these traps.”

Tom refuted Jackson’s assertion that trapping is virtually unfettered on the Navajo Nation.

“It’s a highly regulated activity,” Tom said. “Anyone who wants to use wildlife, whether it’s deer or if it’s bobcat for trapping, they have to have a permit to do so by my department. The process they go through is pretty restrictive. They can’t be on our blacklist for law enforcement violations or failure to meet our requirements. You have to be in good standing with us and you have to know where you want to go. You don’t just get an open hunting permit to where you can go everywhere. You’re restricted to certain areas.”

Livestock survival and family support must trump wildlife concerns, Tom said, adding that she and others welcome the issue’s new visibility.

“The media coverage that we’re getting on this issue is beneficial,” she said. “It informs people of what the rules and regulations are here. It brings to light other things. There is a need to remove fur-bearing animals. A lot of our people still have a need to depend on livestock as a means to support their families.”

As of around 6 p.m. Eastern Time on January 27, the petition had received nearly 2,500 of the 3,000 desired signatures. 

For his part, Jackson himself feels at risk from the traps.

“Every time I go out to take photos now or check on the cows, I have to worry about stepping into a trap, or my dogs,” said Jackson. “It’s a feeling of uncertainty. It’s a violation of my rights. I don’t want to step on a trap.”

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I think further restrictions need to be in place before allowing the use of these traps. I would suggest the would-be trapper spend three days and nights with a leg stuck in a man-sized trap in the middle of summer. If they deem that was NOT inhumane, they can be allowed to trap.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Harlan and Ron, is there an on-line petition that Navajo tribal members can sign onto? Perhaps this as you state, Ms. Tom, a worldwide issue, however the effort is being focused on the Navajo Nation. Sadly, predatory wildlife are being squeezed out of their natural habitat by encroaching developments. The horrible pain that the traps cause is reason enough to ban its use. The larger ones are known to break human limbs. The future could hold lawsuits against the tribe and I am sure it does not have millions in the bank to dole out. Please work jointly and seek a solution - -quickly.

Ron Toahami Jackson
Ron Toahami Jackson
Submitted by Ron Toahami Jackson on
NNDFW Director Gloria Tom once again distorts the truth. This time instead of accusing me of "illegally removing legally set traps" and not knowing the "concept of trust land status" as she did in the Dec 2015 Gallup Independent article, she claims that I said trapping is an "unfettered activity" on the reservation. I have never claimed that. She also claims that her department highly regulates trappers and trapping. Then why were the traps that got 2 bobcats, a raccoon and 2 of my dogs that were set on family land being less than 1/2 mile from a residence, the traps had no ID, were less than 50 yards from a road, were in a "endangered species area" (there are bald and golden eagles nests high above on top of the red rock cliffs where the traps were illegally set.) and it is a recreation area (rock climbing) all of which are violations according to their own handbook of regulations, and not to mention where they were set is an area where I have been hiking with my dogs since I was a kid and where my late Grandmother used to make traditional Navajo offerings and prayers and where I made the same during my Blessing Way ceremony. the NNDFW has not identified who was responsible for those dangerous traps. When is that information going to be made available if it is so highly regulated as she claims. Also she claims again trapping is necessary for predator control, isn't that hunters do? We who live at the area wheres these traps were set have no problems with any "predators" that justified them being set there.The selling of permits is now all about revenue. If the allegations of money laundering from the unlimited sale of trapping permits to Non Navajo's or the allegations of a NNDFW truck seen driving away from the mass shootings of 11 horses this summer constitutes "unfettered activity" of which we at BNNT have called for an investigation into then maybe shes right. This is all about the prostituting of the natural resources of the Navajo Nation so that some rich old lady somewhere can wear her highly prized bobcat fur and lining the pocketbooks of who knows who.…/ban-trapping-on-the-navaj…/…/the-vicious-reality-of-st_b……/20…/SWRtrapppingoccusac.mp3

Julia Mackenzie's picture
Julia Mackenzie
Submitted by Julia Mackenzie on
Ms. Tom is incorrect - a survey published in 2006 shows that a majority of wildlife experts would like the traps banned. Navajo Fish & Wildlife are in this for the money. They have zero interest in conservation or anything like it. The traps are inherently cruel and inhumane. Gloria Tom should be ashamed of herself and needs to be removed from her post as do other "conservation" officers who support trapping and hunting of bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes and other animals on Navajo land. Where is the respect for the animals?

diametryk's picture
Submitted by diametryk on
Thank you Ron for spearheading this campaign to call for a ban on leghold traps. They are outdated - as is trapping and killing to solve wildlife conflicts, for the most part. From her comments, it sounds like the director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife is not aware of other methods of dealing with depredation and nuisance wildlife. My husband and I run a humane wildlife control business in California and we use non-lethal methods to deal with wildlife issues. Most people think if they get rid of the animal, they get rid of the problem, but that's just not so. The presence of animals usually means there's something attracting them - a source of food or shelter. You have to eliminate or eliminate the animals' access to these resources to resolve the issue longterm, otherwise, new animals just keep moving in to take the place of the one that was killed. As for loss of livestock - the owner of the animals must be held responsible for keeping them safe. It should not mean the loss of a wild animal's life just because it was trying to survive. there are lots of ways to deter predators - one thing that's getting a lot of interest right now is something called Fox Lights - they are used to deter larger predators. Anyway - thanks for speaking up for our wildlife, Ron. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.