Why can’t Mat-Su Borough keep traps from a few miles of public-use trails?
Alaska Dispatch News Commentary | Lynn Mitchell | January 15, 2017
“Why does a very obvious line always have to be crossed before protective action is taken? Why can’t the loudly marching approach to the line precipitate action? Why does the innocence of “before” have to be lost to the wisdom of “after?” Although these questions can apply universally, I apply them here in this writing to the growing threat of trapping in urban areas and along high-use recreational trails…”
As suburbia replaces frontier, Mat-Su considers restricting trapping for the first time
Alaska Dispatch News | Zaz Hollander | January 9, 2017
Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials are considering a historic ban on traps and snares at schools and along trails popular with dog owners.
The conflict between trailside trapping and pets is on the rise in this growing municipality with frontier roots that’s given way to expanding suburbia. The population of Mat-Su topped 100,000 last year, making it the second largest municipality in the state behind Anchorage.
Progress on the proposed borough law comes as winter’s trapping season gets well underway and residents report several dogs caught in snares or traps since December in the Knik River Valley and off Archangel Road in Hatcher Pass…
Gov. Walker must correct inherent bias toward trappers in Board of Game
Alaska Dispatch News Commentary | Lynn Mitchell | January 24, 2016
“The Board of Game meets March 17-28 in Fairbanks. Most of us, caught up in the day-to-day living of our own lives, would not consider this a highly consequential event that deserves even a millisecond of our very precious time. However, you, like me for too many years, would be wrong. Worse yet, you would realize you were wrong when you, like so many unsuspecting others before you, intersect tragically with the one public land user group that has virtually become an eighth member of the board, a member with no term limits: trappers…”
Why are dogs still getting caught in traps near Mat-Su trails?
Alaska Dispatch News | Zaz Hollander | January 18, 2016
A sudden spate of dogs caught in traps in the Valley is galvanizing a push to ban snares and traps around schools and some trails as the frontier pursuit bumps up against population growth.
Kyle Drasky was one of five people to report dog encounters with snares or traps in December, according to Alaska Safe Trails, a group pushing for more restrictions in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Trappers shouldn’t be free to endanger hikers and pets
Alaska Dispatch News Commentary | Lynn Mitchell | September 23rd, 2015
“Recently the story of Kathleen Turley (formerly Adair) of Juneau who mercifully released an eagle from two steel traps and then subsequently sprung other traps in the area for safety reasons is back in the news. The story is back in the news for one reason: The trapper who set the traps, John Forrest, is suing Ms. Turley for “damages” in excess of $5,000. He is being represented in such a frivolous suit by a high-powered attorney and fellow trapper, Zane Wilson. Further, since two men seem to not be enough to take on the apparently worthy adversary of Ms. Turley, the Alaska Trappers Association is fully and publicly providing support. Ms. Turley must be a very formidable foe indeed. This whole situation reminds me of a bunch of bullies in a schoolyard – bullies who are picking on a woman who could be their own daughter! Shame on them! What a fine example and representation of the “ethics” of trappers. So let’s examine those ethics, shall we?…”
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Lisa Maloney | February 3, 2015
Jim Maddry is grateful his dogs Piper and Yukon are uninjured following encounters with a snare and a spring trap recently in the woods adjacent to the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla. Maddry and Yukon are part of the MAT + SAR Search and Rescue canine team. Maddry and fellow members of the unit had dogs out on a training exercise in late November when Piper and Yukon were both trapped.
In late November of last year, Jim Maddry and a training partner, both members of the Matanuska Valley’s MAT+SAR K9 search and rescue dog unit, had their dogs out on an exercise in one of their frequent training areas: the woods near the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla. As they turned off the trail on a shortcut back to their vehicles, they noticed one of Maddry’s dogs, Piper, was missing.
“We called out and heard a yap,” Maddry said later over the phone. Only with the help of the other dogs could they find Piper, who is pitch black, trapped in the shadows under a spruce tree with a snare around her neck. “She couldn’t bark anymore, she couldn’t yap,” Maddry said. “I tried to undo the snare but it was so tight — you have to tighten down to release it, and I was afraid of breaking her neck.”
Maddry carries cable cutters for just such a situation. With them, he was able to cut the snare off Piper. When his other dog, Yukon, got several toes caught in a spring trap near where Piper had been snared, Maddry was able to set him free too. Both dogs were ultimately okay. “I was amazed — they were like, no big deal,” Maddry said. “I was the one that was traumatized.”
Not all dog-trap encounters in the Mat-Su area end so well. When I called area veterinarians, estimates of how frequently they see dogs with injuries from traps ranged from one every few years to five or six a year at Big Lake-Susitna Veterinary Hospital.
Dr. Adriana Fisher of Big Lake-Susitna Veterinary Hospital described the injuries that can result. “The Conibear [body hold] traps are pretty much fatal,” she said. Even a short stay in a leg-hold trap can result in what Fisher described as “pretty intense flesh wounds” down to the bone, requiring weeks of sedation-assisted bandage changes to heal properly. If a dog is caught in a leg-hold trap for long, the loss of circulation to the trapped limb can result in amputation. A snare around a limb can result in amputation for the same reason — or death if it’s around the neck.
Conflict as population booms
The Alaska Safe Trails website is peppered with a handful of stories about dogs caught in traps that, while technically legal like the traps that caught Maddry’s dogs, were set near areas frequented by walkers, skiers and cyclists with their dogs and children. In one of the reported cases, a retired sled dog lost a leg to a snare near the Houston school trails.
“It truly is incompatible to have that kind of activity right next to the trails. It isn’t what the trails were designed for,” said Lynn Mitchell, the Mat-Su accountant who founded Alaska Safe Trails in response to reports like those featured on the website.
Alaska Safe Trails just began circulating a petition in hopes of generating public support to prohibit trapping in a few specific areas: The Crevasse-Moraine trail system, the Government Peak recreational trail system, and Borough core area schools. Mitchell said the petition had about 100 signatures in two or three days, and that people were uniformly surprised to find that there are currently no rules against trapping in those areas.
Legal traps, illegal dogs
Separating trapping from high-use recreational areas might seem like an easy fix, but there are a few tangles just below the surface. The first is that the borough has a leash law just as Anchorage does, even if it’s not frequently enforced. So while the traps that dogs are getting caught in may be legal, the dogs getting caught in them aren’t — with the exception of those participating in an organized activity like Maddry’s training exercise.
“Just as a trapper being questioned of their ethics, one could think the same of the owner who allows their dogs to run off leash or get out of their enclosures (which is illegal),” wrote Al Spencer, president of the Southcentral-based Alaska Frontier Trappers Association, in an email.
But legal or not, many dog owners love giving their pets freedom, just as trappers love having the freedom to place their traps. “The combination of new or young trappers and people ignoring the leash law is a recipe for problems,” said Pete Buist, past president and spokesman of the statewide Alaska Trappers Association, in a phone interview. “Occasionally you get older or more-experienced folks that trap close to town, but usually that’s not the case.”
Policing their own?
The second tangle is determining who actually has the authority to ban traps set on borough lands, and how. Trapping falls under the legal purview of Alaska’s Board of Game, but municipal governments do have some indirect control — if they can walk the tightrope of exercising their power in a way that’s not pre-empted by state law. The Mat-Su Borough attorney’s office recommended against a proposed 2013 ordinance to limit trapping for exactly that reason.
In several cases, the Alaska Trappers Association has stepped in to negotiate a resolution between trappers and other user groups. “We feel it’s better to work out a cooperative agreement, rather than to force the issue through via ordinance,” said Buist in an email. “We realize that a municipality can close lands OWNED by said municipality to some activities, but the normal tendency of municipal governments in the heat of public outcry is to try and restrict trapping on all sorts of land.”
But Alaska Safe Trails isn’t asking, and the Alaska Trappers Association isn’t offering to broker a solution in this case. “We’re not even saying we’re trying to ban trapping. Why should we even have to ask for [these restrictions]? It’s so logical,” said Mitchell in a phone call.
Mitchell says that Alaska Safe Trails is trying to work through local government because the organization is asking for very narrow, specific restrictions. But in a phone call Ken Marsh, information officer with the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, pointed out that anybody can present a proposal to the Board of Game to adjust trapping regulations in the Mat-Su Borough or anywhere else in the state.
The Game Board will be holding its Central/Southwest Region meeting at Wasilla’s Lake Lucille Inn Feb. 13-Feb. 20. The deadline for lodging a comment has already passed, but they will be accepting public testimony and trapping is expected to come up as an issue.
Protecting your dog
What about protecting your dog now? Keeping him on a leash is definitely the best bet for his safety and yours. “[The leash law] is not to keep your dog out of a trap, although it will,” said Hugh Leslie, recreation and library services manager for the borough. He and Marsh pointed out that the leash law also protects dogs from a number of other hazards: Being hit by a cyclist or snowmachiner, stalked by coyotes or wolves, or charging back to you with an angry mama moose or bear in tow — all of which have happened in Southcentral Alaska.
If you do run your dogs off-leash or let them explore off-trail on a long leash, you can take a page out of Maddry’s book and carry cable cutters to increase your chances of quickly rescuing them from a trap or snare. You can also watch a series of videos on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website that show how to release your dog from several types of traps, along with common signs that you might be on a trapline. Search for “sharing the trails” to find this information, along with a downloadable brochure.
Finally, I contacted the Alaska State Troopers to find out if releasing your own pet from a trap could incur any sort of legal liability. Capt. Bernard Chastain, operations commander for the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, said that it does not. But springing other traps can expose you to legal action. If you see a trap that you believe is illegally set or poses a public safety hazard, the best thing to do is call the troopers.
“We get phone calls all the time,” Chastain said over the phone. “We’d be glad to go out and check to make sure those [traps] are set in a legal location and not something that’s going to cause a public safety hazard for everybody.”
Anchorage freelance writer Lisa Maloney reported on Alaska Search and Rescue dogs  in October. Reach her at email@example.com .
Trappers, dogs clash on trails
Brian O’Connor | Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman (www.frontiersman.com)
January 18, 2015
PALMER — Despite years of review, borough animal ordinances amended Jan. 6 have left unresolved what users of local trails see as a major issue: dogs that become entangled in traps set for wild fur-bearing animals.
Proposed amendments to Chapter 24 of borough code had included sections pertaining to dogs and traps. However, those were removed after borough attorney Nick Spiropoulos expressed concerns about potentially infringing on state authority, according to several people familiar with the issue.
On one side, fur trappers worry that what they say are the unethical actions of a minority of trappers who trespass or place traps close to hiking trails will give their pastime a public black eye. Dog owners who say their best friends have lost limbs and lives in snares placed on private property and too close to hiking trails say regulation is necessary to prevent further dog injuries.
Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game say they aren’t sure how many times and under what circumstances dogs encounter snares. That’s in part because the agencies they report to can range from Alaska Wildlife Troopers to local police to none at all, according to Todd Rinaldi, an Area Wildlife Biologist with Fish and Game.
“In the excitement and anxiousness of the moment, people are putting their pet as the big priority, and not knowing who to turn to to report these issues,” he said.
A booklet containing regulations handed out by the state contains guidelines for minimizing the effects of traps on other users, Rinaldi said. Guidelines include avoiding high-use recreational areas, homes or trails frequently used by hikers, Rinaldi said.
“The interesting conundrum here is trapping is legal in these areas right now, however, off-leash dogs are illegal,” he said.
Trappers who set foot on private property without permission are trespassing, and should be referred to law enforcement, Rinaldi said.
Trappers say their particular form of public use is controversial, but equally legitimate to other forms of popular public land use. No trapper is trying to catch a dog, said Earl Bragg, an officer with the Alaska Frontier Trappers Association, a local chapter of the statewide Alaska Trappers Association.
“If somebody’s dog gets caught in a snare, we look bad,” he said. “It’s automatically our fault.”
The Association’s position, which contributed to the removal of the trapping section from the amendment to borough ordinance, is aggressively pro-trapping in part because trappers face a lack of understanding from a minority of people, Bragg said.
“The way we look at it, 10 percent of the people are anti-trapping,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s wildlife management or recreation.”
Bragg said trapping is a necessary part of responsible wildlife stewardship.
“It maintains a healthy ecosystem,” he said. “On a winter like this, nothing’s going to freeze to death.”
Both associations try to educate people about responsible trapping, and responsible users adhere to the ethical guidelines, Bragg added. That includes placing traps 25 yards or more from trailheads, and educating the public on how to open traps in the event that limbs — dog or human — become trapped or ensnared, Bragg said.
“That’s how we do it,” he said. “We don’t need regulations saying you can’t do this. We’re doing wildlife management.” In addition, irresponsible dog owners who let their dogs roam bear at least some portion of the responsibility for their dogs’ injuries, Bragg added.
“We’re legal, you’re not,” he said.
Those words likely come as little comfort to some local residents. A flurry of incidents early in 2013 document at least two dogs becoming ensnared in and around the Settler’s Bay neighborhood, and one dog was reportedly shot and dumped in a lake after becoming entangled in a snare set on private property, according to letters sent to the Frontiersman at the time.
More recent reports are hard to come by, in part because dog owners are afraid to speak up, said Lynn Mitchell, co-founder of the Alaska Safe Trails group, which intends to address the issue.
“It’s really a public safety issue,” she said. “These traps, they’re like little landmines hidden on our property.”
The disparate locations where unethical traps are found, including incidents on the property of Houston High School, point to endemic abuses on the part of trappers requiring regulation, Mitchell said. She’s seen animals left in traps for weeks at a time, starving to the point where birds were pecking at them, and passersby have had to step in and perform mercy killings. Animals are sometimes left to starve in plain view of children and the elderly, Mitchell said.
“I know I’m being provocative here, but somebody has to,” she said.
Mitchell also disputes the borough’s interpretation of state code, and says the borough assembly could address the issue, if it had the political will to do so.
“Kenai borough and Fairbanks borough regulate this activity,” she said. “It’s not like we’re trying to ban trapping. We’re just trying to get them to do what they’re telling each other they should do.”
The Willow Dog Musher’s Association is also seeking opinions on the issue, according to secretary Jamie Wright. Dog mushers out practicing often encounter pet owners frantic about dogs who have become ensnared, though it usually doesn’t become a problem for the teams themselves, unless one of the dogs breaks free, Wright said.
“I’m trying to be part of the educational process as far as forwarding the warnings to people I know,” she said. “It’s really beyond most people to recognize that there may be a trap in that vacant lot across the street. It doesn’t have to be tagged. It’s just silently there and the potential is there.”
Specific stories about dogs suspected to have been snared can be found at https://alaskasafetrails.org. Educational materials about responsible trapping can be found online at http://akfrontiertrappers.com , http://alaskatrappers.org or http://adfg.alaska.gov