By Jenny Neyman
Trappers, plus dog owners, plus trails and other public-use recreation areas from Cooper Landing to Seward, equal a contentious situation. One which the Alaska Board of Game will try to solve in its meeting in Anchorage this week.
Public testimony was taken over the weekend regarding two proposals to ban trapping from Cooper Landing to Seward on or within 250 feet of private land, within 250 feet of public trails, trail heads, associated parking lots, roads and campgrounds, and in certain special areas, including beaches along Kenai Lake and the Cooper Landing “organic dump.”
The board started deliberations Sunday afternoon after public testimony wrapped up. It was scheduled to address the trapping ban, as wells as a slate of other Kenai Peninsula proposals and the rest of its business pertaining to the Southcentral Region, sometime before its scheduled adjournment Tuesday. But as of Tuesday afternoon, it looked as though deliberations would stretch into Wednesday.
Testimony came both for and against the proposals. Those opposed spoke of wanting to find a solution among the interested parties, without regulations needing to be involved. Randy Zarnke, president of the Alaska Trappers Association, advocates a mutual voluntary approach the group has used in Fairbanks, where the ATA and dog owners identified two popular recreational areas and hung signs advising trappers not to set traps or snares in the area, and advising dog owners of the importance of keeping their pets on leash.
“It relies on efforts from both sides of the issue, the trappers, and the one group that seems to have the biggest conflict is dog owners. And we offered the mutual voluntary approach to the person who submitted (the Cooper Landing proposal). And it was rejected.” Zarnke said.
Tom Lassard, who has trapped in Cooper Landing since 1987, decided to post similar signs in Cooper Landing this winter, and had trappers in the Seward area do the same, despite communications breaking down between he and Ken Green, the author of the Cooper Landing proposal.
Lassard then requested that Green withdraw his proposal, to no avail. Zarnke told the board that he had hoped the trappers association and Green’s Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails could continue talking about a mutual voluntary approach.
“We feel like we’ve taken what actions we can to ameliorate, reduce, eliminate problems and conflicts, and we’ve seen no response from the other side,” Zarnke said.
Green said he welcomes continued dialogue, but that Lassard ceased talks when he wouldn’t withdraw his proposal.
“Their idea of working together is a bit different than what ours is,” Green said. “There are two different viewpoints — enforceable regulations or informal or verbal agreements. The ATA supports informal agreements and only informal agreements.”
Green, on the other end, said he’s willing to discuss details like closure areas and boundary distances, but is unaccepting of informal agreements. He wants regulations, with consistent, enforceable rules.
“There’s nothing binding about making a verbal agreement. Nobody really knows what the verbal agreement is supposed to be,” he said.
It’s a personal subject for Green, who has had two dogs caught, though not seriously injured, in traps, one at a popular public Kenai Lake beach off Snug Harbor Road, and another farther out that road. The signs, he said, including two at that very beach, are nice, but amount to unenforceable suggestions.
“The signs are advisory signs. They’re not requirements. Nobody has to stick to them if they don’t want to,” Green said.
Bob Ermold, vice president of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, testified that the committee does not support the trapping bans, calling them excessive. He thinks education and greater awareness could help the situation, as he doesn’t believe the problems are being caused by the area’s regular, seasoned trappers, but those who get into it when the lynx population booms.
“If these proposals pass, what’s going to happen is you’re going to restrict the diehard trappers, the guys that are out there doing it correctly. And they’re the ones that, in essence, are going to be punished for the actions of what I’m assuming are some of these novice folks that just trapped a little bit on their own,” Ermold said.
One thing both sides can agree on is it’s a difficult situation, as noted by board vice chair Nate Turner.
“You guys have a tough place as trappers dealing with the Kenai Peninsula,” Turner said.