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Irresponsibility to blame for Cordova dogs killed by traps

Annette Janka

CORDOVA -- I was heart-broken to hear of the two dog deaths recently, caused by traps within the city limits of Cordova. For me, it is especially upsetting, because just five years ago, in 2007, I put so much time and energy attempting, and failing, to establish a city ordinance that would protect our pets and families from irresponsibly set traps. When my dog was caught in a large leghold trap, I began to learn more than I ever wanted to know about traps

This issue is not necessarily whether you are for or against trapping. It is about controlling irresponsible trapping that  conflicts with other land users.

If every trapper would willingly follow the guidelines written in the Alaska Trapping Regulations pamphlet, we would have fewer conflicts and we might not need to discuss this. The pamphlet says, "Act responsibly as a trapper and conservationist by trapping in ways to minimize conflict between trapping and other users, e.g., avoid high recreational use areas. Avoid situations where you might catch a domestic dog or cat, such as near homes or trails frequently used by hikers, skijorers, dog mushers, or other people."

Cordova ordinance a joke

But as in any law, there are those who use their freedom in irresponsible and selfish ways that endanger others. It is these people that require laws to protect the rest of us. It is to the advantage of the "responsible" trappers of Cordova to support laws that will clearly define for the "irresponsible" trappers what behavior is allowable. If you are a trapper, be honest with yourself. Which are you?

I was on the City Council appointed task force that created the present city ordinance on trapping. The final product was a joke. There is no location in Cordova where a trap cannot be placed, except the Parks and Open space zoning district which includes the ski hill. (That doesn't help dog owners, since dogs are not allowed on the ski hill.) The trappers on the trapping task force who were the most vocal were uncompromising and obstructionist. They refused to mark their traps in any fashion, or choose even a small geographic area that could be designated as trap free where dogs could run off leash, or provide the smallest trapless corridor along even one road way. They even refused to prohibit traps in the downtown area while admitting that it wasn't good trapping. So we are still left with the problem now.

Outdoor recreational activities in Cordova, and the entire nation, have become more and more popular in recent years. Cordova is a wonderland for non-consumptive sports like snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, biking, photography and snowmobiling. There is no location within Cordova's city limits that is not used by people enjoying the great outdoors. Dogs are often companions who enjoy these activities, and they are legally allowed to be off leash in the post-1993 annexed city limits. It is legal for dogs to be leash-free beyond Skater's Cabin on Power Creek, beyond Eccles Creek on Whitshed Road, and across the lake from Skater's Cabin out the highway.

Cordova's trappers are also recreational users, but they are different in that their use of the land becomes exclusive, because leaving dangerous metal objects hidden under moss and snow or up in tree branches unattended makes it unsafe for the other users. So this becomes a recreational user issue. No one recreational user should prohibit all other users safe access to the land.

Traps and more traps

Besides the trap that killed the two dogs, a trap was reported last week on the trail out to the Eccles Lagoon homes. I have personally seen traps 25 feet off of the beginning of the Hartney Bay Trail, a large Conibear on the shoulder of the highway past the 6 Mile houses (80 percent out of the water), a trap 10 feet off the Old Ski Hill snowshoe trail, off of the Eyak River Forest Service trail (illegally still set in June), on the hill behind the houses on Lake Avenue, and under the bridges by the Forest Service informational kiosk near the airport. Trappers on the task force admitted to the presence of traps in the culverts out Orca Road, Power Creek and the flats between the 6 mile homes and the airport. The Cordova Times reported in the police report a cat being caught in a trap in the Lake Avenue area. I have two personal Cordova friends whose dogs have been caught in often fatal-sized Conibear traps set just feet off of car parking areas, and one friend who saw an eagle caught in a trap on a Forest Service trail. Another friend talked about trying to eat at the Reluctant while a land otter screamed outside the window caught for days in a leghold trap. There was a deer caught and then killed by coyotes in a snare at the Old Ski Hill chimney. Unbelievably, there was a trap set underneath a picnic table at the Sheridan Lake trailhead! One of my friends was on a walk on the breakwater with her small children when one said, "Look, Mommy. What's this?" and before she had time to react, had picked up a Conibear trap, long forgotten and thankfully already sprung.

Even if it is obvious that a trap is set in a highly public use area, not even city and agency officials in Cordova can remove it, because of the history of Alaskan trapper's lobbying forces that years ago created laws protecting their interests. Individual municipalities now have the jurisdiction to define trapping laws within their boundaries. The cities of Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez, Homer, Gustavus, Nome and probably others, all have major trapping restriction ordinances.

The other problem specific to traps and dogs is that traps are not just powerfully snapping metal jaws, some of which can jump 10 feet when sprung, but they are baited with extremely powerful scents. The trappers on the ordinance task force said that commercial scents could carry over a two mile distance. Even if trappers would agree to mark their traps with survey tape, your dog is going to be into it before you will be aware of its existence. What self-respecting dog could pass up a bucket of bones? Sadly, not Shadow and Holmes.

So now it is up to us as fellow Cordovans to come up with a solution to this issue. We must do better than we did five years ago. I really believe that we, as mature adults, should be able to have differing opinions without losing sight of how we are all neighbors, connected by mutual friends and family and our love of our Alaskan home. Most of us share more in common than differ. I am remaining open to intellectual conversation, with the purpose of defining an improved plan.

I just overheard a character on my children's video game say "There is no puzzle without a solution." I believe it. Do you?

The commentary first appeared in The Cordova Times. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.