Opinions

Gov. Walker must correct inherent bias toward trappers in Board of Game

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.

That favored interest group of the current Board of Game (five of the seven members publicly identify as trappers) does not use public lands in isolation. No, their activities impact all other users, including hunters with hunting dogs, mushers, wildlife viewers, recreationalists, search and rescue dog handlers and even tourists. Their activities require all other users to carry many implements, even on day hikes, in order to release pets and/or themselves from a trap or snare. Last time I checked, I don't need to pack a tool to fix a biker's flat or a skier's binding, but yet, to recreate on the same trails as a trapper (which can be any trail they so choose, even popular recreational trails), I must pack myriad items.

So for those of you who might now be curious as to the game of Russian roulette that is being played out in this state: There are two proposals currently before the Board of Game put forward by a trapper and the Alaska Trappers Association, respectively.

Proposal 77, advanced by William Wertanen, a trapper, is confusing to several parties, including me. The proposal involves the use of artificial light (on land only) for trapping, which is already sanctioned in certain units. What is unclear is whether Mr. Wertanen wants to expand the use to all units in the state or restrict its use to land only, but his motivations as stated in the proposal are clear: "The proposed regulation change will allow another method of taking furbearers for all trappers. It will also allow physically disabled and senior trappers another method that are unable to run a trap line or hike long distances. Some trappers may opt for this method in populated areas that may reduce conflicts with non-trappers …" Huh? Allowing another method and means of trapping in populated areas reduces conflicts? Please do explain.

Proposal 78, proposed by the Alaska Trappers Association, wants to remove all requirements for identification tags on traps and snares. It further wants the Board to issue a statement of "legislative intent" in opposition to any future implementation of any regulation that would require trap ID tags. This proposal is obviously in response to the Juneau fiasco wherein the trapper got some bad press over his traps, which caught an eagle, later euthanized. Juneau is the lone city in the state requiring trap IDs, and now the association apparently wants to pursue a regressive course in the only area of the state with a common-sense requirement … oh, and lest I forget, make sure no other area of the state should decide that requiring notice when there is a trap line on a trail is a good idea.

And then there is Proposal 80, which requests that the board mandate trapping setbacks along roads, recreational trails, homes, businesses, schools, campgrounds and recreational facilities within cities that have populations of 1,000 or greater. (Note: Not bans, "setbacks.") This proposal was submitted by two nonconsumptive users from Juneau, Michelle Anderson and Patricia O'Brien. While some might want to disagree as to what constitutes a population center, the logic supporting the proposal is unimpeachable. In fact, Anderson and O'Brien reference the Alaska Department of Fish and Game "Alaska Trapping Regulations" booklet, which states that trappers are advised to "trap in ways that minimize conflict between trapping and other users, e.g., avoid high recreational use areas."

The history of decisions by the Board of Game, including the current one, does not bode well for success on that proposal or even a compromise. Each year individuals representing nonconsumptive users from various communities put time and effort into submitting serious and thoughtful proposals to the Board of Game, only to be met with the same outcome: dismissed. Who will once again win the day at the Board of Game in March? Will the trappers merrily skip their way to the goalpost while the rest flounder in the quagmire of "the BOG"?

In closing, this is a crucial juncture in Gov. Bill Walker's administration. Alaska Statute 16.05.221 specifies that Board of Game members are appointed "… with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view in the membership" among other qualifications such as good judgment, knowledge, etc. Gov. Walker had two opportunities in 2015 to "diversify" this current board, which operates more like a cabal than a neutral decision-making body, but he took a pass.

He now has two individuals, Kneeland Taylor and Stephen Stringham, who meet all the requirements under the statute and are seeking the seats of members whose terms expire in June. It is time for change that represents the majority of Alaskans -- in fact, long past time for that change. If the governor passes again, in defiance of the statute, I believe that future victims could be successful in a lawsuit against the state for the state's inaction on repeated proposals to limit trapping in populated areas while at the same time furthering the objectives and goals of trappers. It's only a matter of time before it isn't only your four-legged family members at risk. Alaska Safe Trails will be illustrating this point plainly in the next month in a new campaign … watch, wait and hope it's not your turn next.

Lynn Mitchell is a certified public accountant and president of Alaska Safe Trails Inc.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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