By Jenny Neyman
If a new bill submitted by Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson is passed, trapping will be banned within 200 feet of public trails and facilities on state-managed lands in Alaska.
This could have a big impact in Cooper Landing, where conflicts between dog owners and trappers have roiled for years, with dogs getting caught in traps set near popular hiking trails, campsites and along recreation spots on Kenai Lake.
“I hope this bill passes. I think it’s pretty reasonable,” said Ken Green, of the Committee for Safe Public Trails and Lands in Cooper Landing. “And I think it’s about time the Legislature got involved with it because private citizens have been trying for years and been unable to break through this barrier where, for some reason, the Board of Game is able to just say ‘No’ and turn their backs on this.”
Green submitted proposals to the Alaska Board of Game seeking to ban trapping within 250 feet of private land, recreation sites along Kenai Lake, and public trails, roads and campgrounds in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass. The measures did not pass.
On the federally managed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, trapping is prohibited within a mile of public roads, campgrounds, road-accessible trailheads and within the entirety of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area to the west of Cooper Landing, and refuge headquarters in Soldotna.
But there are no setback requirements for traps on state lands. State trapping regulations advise trappers to check their sets “regularly” and to “avoid situations where you might catch a domestic animal.”
Last year, local trappers took it upon themselves to post signs around Moose Pass and Cooper Landing urging trappers to avoid areas that could cause conflicts, and warning pet owners that traps might be set in the area. Dog owners say that the signs are just advisory and that regulations are needed to give that bark some bite.
“If you’re pretty confident that traps aren’t going to be on your road you can let your dog run, you know, just for a while, or let your dog go into the woods,” Green said.
Trappers point out that they have as much right to those public lands as pet owners. Mike Crawford, past president of the Kenai Peninsula Trappers Association, said that trappers do have an onus to conduct their activity responsibly, but that dog owners have responsibilities, too, and should keep their animals on a leash.
“It’s a multipurpose, multiuse forest we have, and we all need to be responsible and follow the rules to the best of our abilities. And that way we can all enjoy the woods,” Crawford said.
He thinks the bill is overreaching, applying throughout the state, when miners and trappers are often the ones who created trails in the first place. Plus, he doesn’t think the rule will do any good.
“It’s not going to do anything. If your dog’s off a leash, he’s going to travel 200 feet from the trail real easy. And the first thing that happens, if your dog’s not on a leash and it smells where I walked through the woods, it’s going to go follow those footprints,” Crawford said.
In a statement, Josephson said that the Board of Game has abdicated its responsibility in the matter, so it’s up to the Legislature to protect users and prevent future conflicts.
House Bill 306 would make it a class B misdemeanor to set a trap or snare within 200 feet of a campsite, public trail, recreational beach, roadside rest, scenic site or other facility or area established in Alaska statutes. Violations would be punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 30 days in jail, or $1,000 and/or 60 days in jail if the violation causes physical harm to a person or domestic animal.
The bill further states that a pet owner violating a local ordinance relating to the restraint of a domestic animal would not be a defense for violating the trapping law.
The bill has been referred to the House Resources, Judiciary and Finance Committees.