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Trails should be shared: Trappers have rights, and a work history

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Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010 11:19 am | Updated: 1:10 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - Conflicts between trappers and other trail users are unfortunately somewhat common in the Interior these days. There’s a lot of misinformation contributing to the notion that somehow trappers are always the bad guys in these situations. I would like to share a few thoughts on the problem, from the trapper’s point of view.

Obviously, there has been a huge increase in the number of recreational trail users in recent decades. As recently as 20 years ago, there were few winter trail users except trappers! With so many additional trail users, perhaps conflicts are inevitable.

However, don’t automatically assume that the trapper is the bad guy.

Neither I nor the Alaska Trappers Association suggest that it is appropriate for a trapper to set traps in heavily traveled, multiuse trails on public land.

Away from these major trails, it is a different story. When a recreation user heads down the trail, he/she has skipped a lot of the hardships that a trapper has likely already been through. More than any other user group, trappers build and maintain lots of miles of trails. If you have ever tackled these tasks, you will understand that it is a lot of hard work. Thus, when skiers “discover” an existing trail that has been painstakingly cut and maintained by a trapper, perhaps they can be more understanding of why the trapper who constructed the trail might feel a tad possessive about it. It is discouraging to be told to just walk away from all that work.

For the most part, Interior trapping seasons run from November through late February. By March, most trappers are done plying their trade and their trails are available for other uses. Most trappers don’t mind recreational users on their trails after the traps have been pulled.

Often the crux of conflicts between trappers and recreational users involve the accidental catching of dogs in the trapper’s sets.

Trappers cringe at the photos on the front page of the News-Miner, followed by articles and letters to the editor.

Most recreational trail users who take dogs on trails are not aware that it is they who are breaking the law. The borough leash law requires dogs to be on a leash unless they are on private property or engaged in an organized activity. However, when a free-ranging dog gets caught in a trap, the trapper can bear the brunt of the negative public opinion.

During the past few years, trappers have been asked to “compromise” on closures of trails to trapping or setbacks from trails. All these proposals are referred to as compromises by other trail users, but the other trail users don’t give up anything. In each case, it is the trapper who gives up something up. From the trapper’s perspective, that is no compromise.

Thirty years ago, there was a proposal under consideration that would have banned all motorized vehicle use near the Granite Tors in the Chena River Recreation Area. Unfortunately for me, I was trapping there at the time. I did most of my trapping in those days with a dog team for transportation.

However, I did use a snowmachine to set trail for my dogs. I proposed that a seasonal closure would accomplish virtually the same goal, without kicking a few trappers out of the recreation area. My suggestion was to allow mechanized use from November through February. In that way trappers would be able to trap during the season and then our trails would be available and broken out for the skiers. It would be kind of a compromise.

The Division of Parks did not go for it. They went ahead with the closure to all mechanized vehicles, all year round. When trappers were given the bureaucratic boot, no trails were broken out. For years, virtually no skiers (or anyone else for that matter) used that portion of the rec area from November through February. They had made their point, but for a full third of the year the area had no visitors at all. Wouldn’t it be better if user groups could work in support of each other, instead of in opposition?

Neither I nor the Alaska Trappers Association will blindly defend all trappers in all conflicts. However, when conflicts do occur, we would ask you to be fair.

Try to see it from the trappers’ point of view before demanding that an area or trail be closed to trapping.

The trapper is not always the bad guy.

Pete Buist is a past president of the Alaska Trappers Association, served on the Alaska Board of Game and has cut many miles of trail through Interior Alaska.

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