Three communities on the Kenai Peninsula have become the center of a battle between residents who want their dogs to be able to roam free on trails and roads and others who want to spend a few months in the winter trapping for fur and food.
During the second day of the Alaska Board of Game meeting on game issues in the Southcentral Region of the state, the board heard testimony on two proposals would restrict trapping near trails and campgrounds in Cooper Landing, Seward and Moose Pass. The restrictions would include a prohibition on most trapping within 250 feet of any road that leads to a public or private property and the boundaries of all the private properties. This would include trapping near high-volume campgrounds and trails such as the Resurrection Pass Trail, the Lower Russian Lake Trail, Crescent Creek Campground, the Russian River Campground, Kenai Lake beaches and a slew of trails near Seward.
During public testimony, advocates of the proposals said they fear that their animals will be injured and they want legal restrictions on where traps can be set. Opponents testified that legal restrictions were unnecessary and that trappers shouldn’t entirely bear the burden of restriction as some irresponsible dog owners contributed the problem.
“So many of our members are dog owners that we understand their side of it,” said Alaska Trappers Association President Randall Zarnke. “We don’t want to catch dogs for a lot of reasons, most of which is that we don’t want to hurt the dogs. (But) we also don’t want to create a black eye (for ourselves).”
Zarnke said both dog walkers and trappers have a right to use the land and in many areas of the states, it’s common knowledge that traps will be out during the winter months.
“We’re not saying that people shouldn’t walk their dogs in the winter, but they have 8 months of the year when we cannot trap, so there are no traps out in the woods and (they) can’t give us the time that we’ve traditionally had to do our activity?” he said.
Ken Green, who spoke for a group called the Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails in Cooper Landing, submitted both proposals to the Board of Game. Green said his group was primarily interested in developing a working relationship with the Alaska Trappers Association and putting regulations in place that would require all user groups to work together.
“None of us really have the authority to make these kinds of informal, almost under-the-table type of agreements because nobody knows who is going to be around,” Green said. “What we need is a structure … some kind of a framework. Then we can bargain with what are going to be the best areas to close for trapping in certain areas like campgrounds.”
Green and Zarnke have met before — but the discrepancy between their characterization of those meetings, and subsequent events, indicates a breakdown in communications between the two groups.
Green told board members during his testimony that his group has tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Alaska Trapper’s Association.
“They decided that if we don’t withdraw our proposal completely, just withdraw it, they had nothing to talk to us about,” Green said.
Zarnke disagreed with Green’s assertion. He said the Alaska Trappers Association had tried several times to propose a solution that would require mutual cooperation between dog owners and trappers. One that, he said, has worked well in Fairbanks.
“We developed a program … we’ve designated a couple of areas outside of the city limits, on opposite sides of the city and on that there are signs posted that say ‘We the Alaska Trappers Association recommend that there be no trapping in this area.’ As you leave the area there’s a sign — not from us — that says ‘We hope you enjoyed your time with your pet, we remind you of the borough’s leash law and recommend that you adhere to it outside of the boundaries of this area.’ It’s mutual because both sides are recommending things to their own users.”
Despite the breakdown in communication, the Alaska Trappers Association in February posted several signs along highly trafficked areas in Cooper Landing, warning trappers to avoid conflict by not trapping near trails, turnouts and other populated areas. The signs also caution pet owners to be responsible for their pets and avoid going off-leash.
Green said those signs were appreciated, but didn’t do enough to resolve the issue.
For residents on both sides, the issue is deeply personal.
Green said two of his three dogs have been caught in traps as he walked with them on a beach in Cooper Landing.
“I was lucky because I was there at the moment to step in and pull them out,” he said. “The first one was a small trap, the second one was a snare and that was really worrying because the dog was under a tree … right on the beach and it had pulled the snare so tight that I could barely get it off.”
Cooper Landing musher, Robert Bear, told the Alaska Dispatch News that he had been mushing a team when one of his dogs got wind of a scented trap, veered toward it and got caught. Two others of his dogs chewed through their lines on Snug Harbor Road — a road along the south shore of Kenai Lake — and got caught in the traps. One lost a foot and the other a leg.
Green said the number of reports that he has heard of dogs getting caught in traps has risen in the last five years. As the population grows, Green said there will likely be more recreational usage of the trails on the Kenai Peninsula.
“We know, and most everyone else knows, that things on the Kenai Peninsula are changing a little bit and Cooper Landing is a really hot spot for that change,” he said. “We have to have regulations, whether we want them or not.”
Dianne MacLean, President of the Kenai Peninsula Trapper’s Association, she felt the proposals would cover a broad area of land on the central Kenai Peninsula and make trapping burdensome for all but the most fit trappers.
“(The trapper’s association) feel that this seeks to impact much more than just those local community areas,” she said during her testimony. “It just goes far beyond what we would have expected… the area that they’re talking about — 250 feet on either side of the trail — is almost 2 football fields for unleashed dogs to run. We’re not sure that’s really a reasonable thing to expect. That, with some of the restrictions that we already have on the peninsula … it’s just getting harder and harder for people to really spend much time trapping and that runs the risk of trapping disappearing one day.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.