By Jenny Neyman
Sitting inside, chatting on the phone or sipping coffee while having a conversation about the conflicts between trappers and dog owners, cool heads can concede that a middle ground exists with reasonable precautions and common sense applied on both sides.
But opinions and tempers can tighten and snap as quick as the mechanism of a trap when the topic is sprung in the field, by a four-legged friend yelping in fear and pain at being snared, or by trappers’ realizations that the time, effort and expense they’ve invested in establishing their trapline have been wasted by someone stealing or tampering with their equipment.
Those situations can start heads scratching over a more official approach — specifically, whether or not to institute regulations and, if so, what, when, where and how.
On the Kenai Peninsula, Cooper Landing has had an up-close experience in that debate. Though the community is home to less than 300 year-round residents, those residents and growing numbers of visitors have become increasingly active in wintertime outdoor recreational pursuits, such as skiing and snowshoeing, oftentimes bringing along their dogs. At the same time, the area also is traditionally popular among trappers, both from the area and beyond.
“The trapping around the Cooper Landing area is not exclusively done by Cooper Landing residents, but also people from Seward come in, Moose Pass, people from Anchorage and Girdwood also come down. They come from far away. I had people all the way from Fairbanks come down and set traps here,” said Robert Gibson, owner of Kenai Lake Lodge in Cooper Landing, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Trappers Association and a member of the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee. “It’s a rural activity for the residents that live there (in more urban areas). Where there’s lots of people, I couldn’t imagine somebody setting traps there. Here, there’s not so many people.”
Not so many people in residence, certainly, but, especially with the advent of groomed ski trails in Cooper Landing and also in Moose Pass in recent years, there are more people out and about in the backcountry than there used to be. The trails are open for skiers and snowshoers to bring their dogs, as well.
“There have been a number of dogs that have, in the last couple of years, either been killed or been snared and/or injured by trapping. There was a dog this year right off our ski trails at Russian River caught in a snare,” said Ed Holsten, part of the volunteer crew of ski trail groomers in Cooper Landing. “There are some people who are adamantly against trapping and other people, like me, I’m kind of 50-50 on it. I’m not against it but I think, especially in Cooper Landing and also Moose Pass, where the last few years we put in a lot of time and effort into increased winter recreation use by grooming ski trails at Trail River Campground, the Old Sterling Highway, Russian River Campground and Resurrection Creek Trail, we’ve seen more of an increase in recreation use in the wintertime because of these groomed trails. We open the trails up to skiers, skijorers, snowshoers, people skiing with dogs or without dogs. This issue needs to be explored.”
Proposals for increased trapping regulations, such as requiring that traps and snares be set back a certain distance from recreational trails and around homes, have been proposed to the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which has supported them to the Board of Game, to no avail. So, the debate continues over whether an elixir of awareness, common sense and good behavior can soothe this issue, or whether a dose of regulatory action is needed.
“The local Fish and Game Advisory Committee is wrestling with this, the balance between what’s legal and what should be ethical. I think as Alaska grows up, there’s often this conflict between the way it’s always been and the way it’s going to have to be,” said Chris Degernes, who lives with her husband, Bill, in Cooper Landing.