The Lumberjill: Encounters with leg-hold traps in the land of the free

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

Any time we engage in tree work in a community space — near sidewalks and roads, in parks, along trails — public safety is non-negotiable. In addition to bringing down trees, I am also in the business of keeping people safe. We employ safety cones and signage, caution tape and traffic control. Everyone nearby is aware of the dangerous work at hand and their need to exercise vigilance in the vicinity.

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

Each year, I have to assure my insurance company that I am adhering to these standards and keeping the public safe. My insurer wants an inventory of safety equipment and descriptions of how it is all used. They want to know about our training and qualifications. If we are working downtown and affecting the flow of cars and pedestrians, the city requires me to map out where we will place cones and signage. I need to prove that we are capable of keeping people clear of hazards.

Even in North Idaho — the fabled land of freedom, the heart of the American Redoubt, a place being sold to oppressed urbanites as the site to make one’s last stand against tyranny — rules apply. Actually, especially now that North Idaho is being sold as a refuge to the masses and our population is growing dramatically, rules must be made and applied. With more people come more conflicts of expression, interest and use.

Isn’t it ironic that the freedom-seekers moving here are going to bring about the demise of certain freedoms to which locals have grown accustomed? 

Where once I could get away with wandering the old trails way up Rapid Lightning, crossing abandoned properties to link roads and make loops, much of that land is now being actively developed and inhabited (read Emily Articulated in the Dec. 8 edition of the Reader for more on this; her plight could have been mine on numerous occasions). Where once hearty adventurers could have the shores of Priest Lake to themselves in the colder months, perhaps (hypothetically, of course) camping in an icy day-use area, now there is visitation year round. The rules didn’t matter quite as much when there were fewer of us, but now my rule-breaking might be detrimental to others. It’s not just my freedom and enjoyment I have to consider. In populated places, our actions don’t happen in a vacuum. We are a community, like it or not. Your safety needs to matter to me, and (hopefully) vice versa.

The reason the balance of freedom and responsibility is again on my mind (remember my COVID screed?) is this: My dog was recently caught in a leg-hold trap near McArthur Lake, an area frequented by hikers, birders, horseback riders and other recreationists. The trap was placed in the dead center of a mowed trail. For real.

Even 10 years ago, things were quiet out there, but no longer. The area is on the map. However, someone is operating a trapline near the lake as if it were still the Wild West. The trap was not marked; I had no notion to even look for such a thing. The god-sent woman who helped me release Charlie (thank you, Denise!) knew the drill, as her dog had previously been caught in the same trap. When she called Fish and Game to report the incident, she was told that the onus is on her to keep her dog on a leash. When I called, I received the same sorry-not-sorry response.

I believe that trappers today, considering our population and its affinity for recreational pursuits, should be required to alert the public of their presence. A simple sign at the trailhead is fine; coyotes can’t read, after all, and won’t be tipped off. It gives me the opportunity to judge the risks of hiking with my canine in a given area. Just as I make sure to keep folks from waltzing under falling limbs, can you help keep me and my dog, dear trapper, from waltzing into your trap? Such notices are currently offered as a “courtesy” by some trappers, according to Fish and Game. There is no requirement.

Ugh. Requirement. A bad word in North Idaho, along with rules, regulations, laws, policies, nanny state, TYRANNY! People are escaping such confines by coming here. I get it. But laws follow population. The Census Bureau used to define “frontier” territory as having less than two people per square mile. We’re well beyond that here. Thus, more conflicts are coming, along with more rules to help mediate those conflicts.

I sympathize, though. If we operated our business in California, holy cow. The regulations, though well-intentioned, might drown our small enterprise. If we were forced to update our fleet every few years to meet emissions standards… yikes. There’s a reason that much of our equipment hails from California auctions. In Utah, we came up against building regulations, and that’s part of why we moved. We were not allowed to build our own house. We were not allowed to live in our camper trailer. Thus, being low-income, we were not allowed to live in Moab. Bonner County was much more accommodating of quirky housing choices, so we were able to move into a rotting log cabin and make a home here.

I understand how regulation can be stifling, but it can also be protective—both of our safety (traps, anyone?) and our freedoms (like, to hike without fear). There is a balance, to be sure, and North Idaho will have to find its equilibrium. But new residents are mistaken in believing this to be a free-for-all kind of place.

In a recent article regarding alarm over a new “Ruby-Ridge-style compound” in Boundary County, former Bonners Ferry Mayor Darrell Kerby shared his concerns about the perception that North Idaho is a lawless land, drawing lawless people.

“It would be the wrong impression that Boundary County is open to extremist activity that would lend itself to the breaking of any law. … If [people] think they can come to Boundary County and be out of sight of law enforcement, they’ve come to the completely wrong location.”

All of this is to say that there are laws here. And there will continue to be more laws with the influx of more people. One of those new regulations could relate to trapping (just an idea), but there will probably need to be more conflict of use — more dogs injured — before that happens.

In the meantime, I will be cautious on hikes with Charlie. I will be careful in my workplace to protect passersby. I will be grateful for the freedom to operate my business and live in my home without too much interference. And I will cross my fingers that North Idaho achieves a balance between freedom and responsibility amid a growing population and a changing demographic.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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