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.
Recently Zaz Hollander published a story in this newspaper reporting on some of the latest victims of trapping in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough along popular recreational trail systems and/or adjacent to residential neighborhoods. She also reported that a proposed ordinance, agreed to by more than 3,500 citizens of the Mat-Su Borough, was gutted due to pressure from the Alaska Trappers Association. When will what is sensible and reasonable prevail over the illogical and noisy will of the minority? Let's compare facts to excuses:
• Yes, the borough has an ordinance regarding "restraint of animals" (borough Code 24.05.070). This is the No. 1 argument the trappers use to combat the bad publicity that occurs when traps are set on high-use recreational trails and people's pets are trapped. "Restraint" is defined as "actual physical control such as a leash, harness, …" (borough Code 24.05.010). "Control by leash" is defined as "a person, who is physically and mentally capable of monitoring, directing, and restricting the animal, controls the animal by means of a securely attached leash, chain, or other item, including an electronic collar" (same code section). Thus, your dog can be on an electronic collar, come to you when beeped/shocked and still get caught in a trap/snare all while you and your pet are in compliance with borough code. Hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, sled dogs are exempt from the restraint law, and thus also subject to being trapped while in compliance with borough code — and have been.
• The current ordinance, not the ordinance agreed to by the 3,500-plus citizens, would ban trapping on school property and within the first 100 feet of the Crevasse Moraine trail system. However, marten tree traps would be allowed within the 100-foot setback so that your recreational activity is within view of an animal struggling/dying in a tree set. The fact that trapping has been/is condoned on school property is simply outrageous. No citizen movement should have had to right this inherent wrong.
So, that leaves Crevasse Moraine. The trapping community, in its greed, could not yield a trail system that was designed according to the CM Master Plan for hiking, skiing, biking, dog walking, horse riding. No, out of the borough's 25,258 square miles, they could not let recreational users have approximately one-half square mile of freedom with their family members and pets.
• According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, there are 2,500 to 3,500 trappers in the entire state of Alaska. You are advised to leave the area when you come across a trapline (Fish and Game brochure "Trap Safety for Pet Owners"). In real-time numbers, this means that approximately .4 percent of the population has government-sanctioned priority over 99.6 percent of the population for six months of the year regarding the multiuse of public lands. Until local politicians brave the winds of the very vocal mob mentality, where even the reasonable voices among them are drowned out, nothing will change.
Some localities in this state have changed; it is shocking that the fastest growing region in the state continues to live in an outdated past while advertising itself as a "recreation destination." A quick examination of the trails brochures on the borough website is an exercise in deception. You will not see a mention of trapping as the priority use of borough trails/lands, yet it is — by inaction and submission.
To conclude, I ask the question again: Why does a very obvious line have to be crossed? What will be the consequences of crossing that line? This is directed to you, the decision-makers.
Lynn Mitchell is president of Alaska Safe Trails.