The Alaska Board of Game has rejected two efforts to toughen state trapping laws and overturned another law opposed by trappers.
During a 10-day statewide meeting in Fairbanks that ended Saturday, the seven-member board voted unanimously to eliminate trap-identification provisions required in Southeast Alaska and near roads in Tok, a move supported by the Alaska Trappers Association.
The trap labeling laws arose from conflicts between trappers and trail users who discovered pets or wildlife caught in traps and snares. Tensions on Juneau trails rose in January 2015 when a local woman sprung a number of traps, including one that held a bald eagle. She faced criminal charges and later a lawsuit from the trapper involved for tampering with the devices.
The label requirement helps law enforcement track down irresponsible trappers, Alaska Wildlife Trooper Lt. Paul Fussey told the Game Board. In most cases, Fussey said, troopers don't issue a citation: there have been six in the last three years.
But some kind of identifying label — a tag or an index card within 50 yards of the trap or snare — can lead to consequences for trappers who catch dogs or deer, or leave traps out after the season ends. Forty-two of 49 states, excluding Hawaii, have labeling requirements for traps, he said. "There's no repercussion if you can't find out who it is."
Bruce Dale, director of the state's Division of Wildlife Conservation, reminded the Game Board the local regulations in Juneau and Tok are unusual exceptions "intended to defuse or deal with local issues."
Board members voted to end the requirement, saying it violated trappers' privacy and wouldn't keep trappers from hurting or killing off-leash dogs.
"I expect we're going to hear from people in Southeast quite a bit about this," said Vice-chairman Nate Turner, a hunting guide and ATA member from Nenana. Chair Ted Spraker is also a trappers association member.
Turner said he was swayed to vote for the change by two board members from Southeast who also back it. "We'll have to work with those communities to address their concerns," he said.
The board voted down a proposal from the Alaska Wildlife Alliance to ban traps and snares within 27 communities of 1,000 people or more that are within a quarter mile of a public road, 200 feet from a trail and 1 mile from a school or dwelling.
ATA representative Pete Buist, who's spent nearly 50 years trapping in Alaska, testified the municipal ban would "do little to solve the problem of occasional conflicts between traps and loose dogs."
The Game Board also unanimously defeated a Wildlife Alliance proposal to require traps be checked for animals every 24 hours except during severe weather events to prevent suffering.
"I just think it's anti-Alaskan to promote something like this," said Wrangell board member David Brown, referring to the state's origins in the fur trade.
The decision marks the latest in a string of rejections of trapping bans as pet owners in urbanized parts of Alaska encounter dogs hurt or killed in traps or snares set near roads or trails.
Lynn Mitchell, president of a Mat-Su advocacy group called Alaska Safe Trails Inc. that hopes to ban traps near trails and other populated parts of the Valley, said in an email the board's continued support of trapping over other trail users will hurt the state's recreation and tourism industries.
"There isn't anything our side — which represents the majority, by far — can say or submit to the board that will ever be seriously listened to, let alone passed," Mitchell wrote.