By Joseph Robertia
Long before the first Russian traders and other white settlers arrived in Alaska, trapping was part of the seasonal cycle for those who called this place home. That tradition continues, and another season of trapping furbearers will soon be open.
Many who head into the woods will look toward trapping one or more species on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge land, and to ensure that trappers set snares and leg holds as safely, legally, ethically and humanely as possible, the refuge will hold its annual trapper orientation class and snaring seminar this weekend.
“It’s a good class. You only have to take it once, but we have some trappers that come every year to learn what’s new about furbearer biology or changing regulations or new trapping methods,” said Gary Titus, a refuge employee coordinating the class and seminar, and a trapper, himself.
The trapper orientation is mandatory for anyone new to trapping on the refuge, and those wishing to extend the trap-check requirement from every four days to every seven days must attend the snaring portion of the training, as well.
The refuge serves as a common stomping ground for trappers. In 2009-10, the refuge issued 114 trapping permits, of which 69 people reported actually trapping. Fourteen of these 69 were unsuccessful, while the remaining 55 harvested 14 wolves, 19 coyotes, one wolverine, 18 marten, 93 ermine, 56 mink, 15 otter, 34 beaver, 40 muskrat and a whopping 155 lynx.
“Lynx were way up last year and should be again this year,” Titus said. “With hare numbers up, the lynx are hitting an upswing in their cycle.”
Laine Lahndt, a member of the Alaska Trappers Association and a Kasilof trapper with nearly 40 years experience, said that after the long closure on lynx trapping, chasing cats last season was a nice change of pace, and one he’s looking forward to again this year.
“It’s been nice to target something different,” he said.
Lahndt had been trapping for numerous species in the interim, including wolves, and he said it would be good to not have to lug the hardware necessary to trap such an apex predator.
“Wolves cover a lot of ground and the gear to trap them is heavy,” he said. “Cats tend to stick close to snowshoe (hare)-populated areas, which often aren’t as far out, and the gear for them is lighter, which is nice. I can put several lynx traps and snares in a pack and get them all out in a day.”
Lynx were joined by marten, ermine, mink and muskrat in getting harvested in higher-than-average numbers last season, according to Titus. Other species were near or substantially below the 10-year average.
Titus said the trapping class is designed to be as comprehensive as possible, in order to ensure trappers are and continue to be good stewards of the land and the resource.
“We’ve got biologists teaching about furbearer biology and biological aspects of trapping. We’ve got law enforcement officers talking about state and federal regulations. We’ve got Fish and Game employees talking about ethics — such as selective trapping, humane trapping and conflict reduction — all of which are very important,” he said.
“And the whole class is open to questions,” Titus added.
All classes will be held at the refuge’s Environmental Education Center on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. Trapper orientation is from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, with the snaring seminar from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. For more information, call 262-7021.
Outside the refuge, a good relationship with professional trappers is fostered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to address issues with animals that become nuisances or public safety concerns.
“It’s a legal method of capturing furbearers and a good management tool,” said Larry Lewis, a Fish and Game technician.
Lewis said that Fish and Game issued special permits allowing trapping of beavers last year after the buck-toothed creatures began damming up culverts in Kenai city limits, causing damage to the draining devices and flooding on nearby roads.
“That is usually done at the request of government agency when the integrity of a state, borough or city road is threatened,” Lewis said.
As another example, Lewis said that trapping can be used to manage urban coyotes, which can move in and begin preying on pets. Unlike bears, it is not policy to relocate coyotes. Shooting the animals in residential areas is not an option, due to numerous safety issues. Poisoning is both illegal and not selective enough and can indiscriminately lead to the deaths of other species of wildlife, as well as pets.
“Trapping is safer for nontarget species and highly effective,” Lewis said. “It also provides a way to dispatch the animal in a manner that allows its carcass to not go to waste.”
Lewis said that trappers can also occasionally assist homeowners who have a moose or other animal die on their property, since not everyone has the knowledge or means to move a dead animal that weighs several hundred pounds.
“If the meat is not salvageable for human consumption, trappers can, by permit, collect the animal to use it as bait,” he said.
To learn more about getting assistance from a local trapper for these types of problems, call Fish and Game at 262-9368.