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Charges dropped against Las Vegas family cited for freeing fox from trap

Fox caught in trap
Fox caught in trap
Fox caught in trap
Posted at 9:28 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 10:44:44-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — "We didn't come to this fight," Jessica Manners said. "We didn't choose this fight. It kind of chose us."

The Vaske family's fight began Jan. 9, when they sprung a grey fox from the jaws of a steel leg-hold trap.

Husband and wife Bobby Vaske and Jessica Manners were hiking with their two children and the family dogs in the La Madre mountain range at the end of Centennial Parkway when one of their dogs set off a trap, but was unharmed.

Nearby, they heard a fox yelping, its leg caught in a second trap, which had been baited and placed just outside its den.

Bobby went home, got some tools and returned so the couple could work together to free the fox from the trap.

"It is a gross misdemeanor in the State of Nevada to disturb somebody else's trap," explained Doug Nielsen of the Nevada Department of Wildlife in our original story, which aired in March.

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At the time, Nielsen said the agency investigated the case and did not issue criminal citations.

That changed after our story aired.

"I was very surprised because I thought it was done and closed. That and also, we didn't feel that we had done anything wrong," Vaske said.

But nearly two months after the incident, game wardens showed up at the family's home on a Saturday morning.

"And there's boom, boom, boom!" Manners recalls. "Our kids are still sleeping and there's banging on the door like they're gonna knock our door down, and all of a sudden there's two game wardens at the door basically threatening to arrest us."

Instead, they issued citations, initially totaling more than $700.

FAMILY FINED: Las Vegas family fined more than $700 for freeing fox from trap

"We don't want to just pay the money, sit down and be quiet," Manners said. "We feel like they are wrong, they're bullying us, this is retaliatory."

Fox caught in trap
Fox caught in trap in area above Centennial Hills

In internal emails obtained by 13 Investigates, NDOW's Doug Nielsen calls our story "More of an opinion piece than a news piece... as expected."

He notes a call from a man complaining that Vaske wasn't cited for disturbing the trap, and the game warden responds that they're reopening the investigation based on information revealed in our story.

"After this experience, would you do it again?" Darcy Spears asked Vaske.

"Absolutely!" Vaske responded. "Absolutely! No doubt about it. That law needs to change."

Animal advocates like to point out the irony in the law: especially in protected areas within Red Rock, hikers and visitors can't take a rock or a flower as a souvenir or disturb something like a Joshua tree. But it is legal to take an animal, kill it and sell its pelt for profit.

Trapper Giovanni Smith, identified on a tag in NDOW's photo of his trap, wouldn't talk to us.

He did submit a statement to NDOW about confronting Vaske and Manners and accusing them of taking his traps.

Records show they "had words" and the trapper told the family they needed to "share the mountain."

Fox caught in trap
Fox caught in trap in area above Centennial Hills

"It shouldn't be allowed so close to the valley," Vaske said. "It's insane."

The game warden's notes show Smith "...contacted NDOW to report the incident and wished prosecution for the tampering of his traps."

"When this first happened, I said to Bobby, 'I guarantee 90 percent of Vegas does not know this is happening and if they did, they wouldn't be okay with it,'" Manners said.

According to wildlife advocacy group TrailSafe, which helped make Nevada's trapping laws stricter in 2017, trappers comprise about 1% of our state's overall population and contribute a tiny fraction of NDOW's annual license revenue.

The Vaskes didn't intend to add to that by paying their fine.

"PETA and several other animal groups actually raised the money to pay for our fines, but we said, 'Thank you, but no thank you, we would like to fight this,'" Manners said.

PREVIOUS: Las Vegas family who freed fox from trap honored by PETA

Attorney Lance Hendron took on that fight.

"It just, for me, didn't sit well," said Hendron, who represented Manners and Vaske pro bono.

"He [Vaske] believed that there was going to be immediate risk to either other animals or him and his family members as well," Hendron explained, and that's what he planned to argue as a defense in court.

Fox caught in trap
Fox caught in trap in area above Centennial Hills

Nevada law allows someone to disturb or remove a trap if it creates an immediate risk of physical injury or death to either any person or any animal accompanying that person.

But Hendron never got to make that argument.

On the mid-May day the case was set to go to court, the district attorney's office announced the state was not proceeding. The case was dismissed and closed.

"I was glad that it was that reaction from the prosecutors, because then it just proved exactly what I felt the whole time — it was just one big ruse," Vaske said.

The family and their lawyer plan to take the fight to next year's legislative session, hoping the case sends a message that it's time to ban trapping on public lands for good.

"From a humane point of view, I think we're better than that," Hendron said.

Adding to that, Jessica Manners said she will pose this question to lawmakers: "How could saving a life ever be wrong?"

Find more in-depth reporting from 13 Investigates at ktnv.com/13-investigates.

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