A trapper with a long history of conservation violations and another Iron Range man have been charged with illegally setting hundreds of wire snares across a wide swath of northeastern Minnesota and taking at least one wolf, foxes and other wildlife.

“It’s the biggest illegal trapping case, with the largest number of traps, that I have ever been a part of,” Lt. Brent Speldrich, a district enforcement supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the Duluth area, said Wednesday. “It’s the biggest we’ve seen in this region.”

The investigation into the case against Roderick R. Kottom, 68, and Douglas A. Marana, 70, spanned more than two years leading up to this week’s charges.

The two men, both from Chisholm, were charged Monday in St. Louis County District Court with illegally taking or possessing pine marten, otter, fisher or wolverine, a gross misdemeanor.

They also were charged with two misdemeanor counts of failing to tend to the snares and making the loops of the snares too large. Another charge against the two, a petty misdemeanor, alleges they set the snares without putting proper identification tags on them.

Kottom, who has advertised himself as “Papa Fisher” for his taxidermy services, and Marana were charged by summons. Telephone messages were left with both men Wednesday seeking comment on the charges. They are scheduled to appear in court April 13.

Wire snares are cable loops often set near the ground and attached to a tree. An animal attempting to go through the loop gets cinched around the neck.

Speldrich said the traps are required by law to be checked daily.

“This way, the animal is not suffering in an inhumane way,” he said.

He emphasized that when done correctly, setting that type of trap is “an ethical way to take an animal. ... It can be a very quick way to dispatch the animal. The snare pulls tight and quick suffocates, and the animal goes down.”

Pelts are valuable

Bert Highland, a 62-year-old trapper who lives in Brimson, Minn., about an hour’s drive east of Chisholm, said the allegations against Kottom and Marana prevent him from calling them trappers.

“They are butchers,” said Highland, who said he has been pursuing this “passion of mine” since he was 5. “You’ve got to give them their day in court, but they are not sportsmen, and they are not conservationists.”

Speldrich said the animals pursued by trappers are sought for their pelts, which “are worth something on the open market.”

Highland said that “right now, your bobcats, your martens and fishers” are most desirable in Minnesota for trapping. He said a single bobcat pelt can sell anywhere from $30 to $100.

According to the complaints filed against Kottom and Marana:

A conservation officer, responding to a tip to the DNR, checked on a trap north of Duluth in December 2014. The officer found a wolf in a snare and numerous other snares of the same design that used the same bait.

In January of this year, investigators seized 638 illegal snares on trap lines allegedly set by Kottom and Marana. The lines were found in a large area of St. Louis County and also in the counties of Itasca, Koochiching and Lake.

Conservation officers located 17 foxes, two fisher, five snowshoe hares and one deer illegally taken on the trap lines.

Along with the wolf found in the snare north of Duluth, conservation officers suspect another wolf and numerous dogs were also trapped.

On Jan. 9, authorities searched the men’s homes and a taxidermy business.

At Kottom’s residence, they seized five frozen foxes with untagged snares attached. A fisher, a relative to the weasel, also had been taken, but lacked the required tag. At the taxidermy business, an officer found four fox pelts and two fox carcasses with snares attached. And at Marana’s house, officers retrieved a GPS tracking device that contained mapping data revealing trapping routes.

State and federal court records show that Kottom has broken similar laws over the years.

In 2004, conservation officers seized a number of fisher and pine marten pelts from his home. He was convicted in St. Louis County in 2007 and again in 2013 on various counts related to trapping.

In August 2008, Kottom was fined $1,500 by U.S. authorities and put on two years probation for possessing a mounted Canada lynx, a federally protected species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the DNR were flagged to Kottom in December 2003 after discovering an advertisement on a taxidermy website by “Papa Fisher” offering animal pelts for sale.

Marana has no game-related cases listed against him in court records.

Supports snaring ban

Regardless of whether Kottom or Marana broke any laws, a leading wolf advocacy group responded Wednesday to the charges by challenging the merits of snaring under any circumstances.

Maureen Hackett, president of Howling For Wolves, a Minnesota-based wolf advocacy organization, called snaring “the cruelest method of trapping,” contending that the traps “are unselective, as both wild and domestic animals get caught in these wire nooses that are supposed to strangle them to death. Many animals, however, are maimed and then die in a prolonged death.”

Hackett pointed out that more than 20 states have banned snare traps and her group supports current state legislation seeking to eliminate the hunting practice.

“A snaring ban would be the first step to resolving the illegal assaults on wildlife and animals,” she said.