The Alaska Board of Game (BOG), a seven-member panel of unelected, governor-appointed officials, decides important wildlife issues on behalf of Alaskans. Because the makeup of the BOG is entirely dominated by hunters and trappers, this body frequently renders decisions with little scientific merit and certainly not in line with the public’s values for conservation or humane treatment of wildlife. As an example, this week the BOG unanimously voted to remove the one and only requirement that trappers have in Alaska: Those who trap in the southeastern part of the state no longer need to put their identities on a tag affixed to their traps or posted on a sign within 50 yards of each trap. Caving into this tiny minority special interest group harms Alaska’s wildlife and puts people and family pets into mortal danger.
The fox guards the hen house. Two of the members of the BOG, the chairman and vice chairman, both belong to the Alaska Trappers Association. This conflict of interest explains why recent citizen petitions to the BOG calling for common sense trapping restrictions went ignored, and Alaska’s one restriction on trappers was revoked. Before this week’s hearing, my colleagues and I petitioned the BOG and requested that it require that trappers check traps every 24 hours, and that dangerous traps and snares not be permitted near population centers.
While most states require that trappers check their trap every 24 hours, in our state there is no mandatory trap check time. This means that trappers can leave animals to suffer in traps for days or even weeks until they are dead. Traps and snares are not benign devices; they are cruel and according to recent statewide poll of Alaska voters, most people oppose them by a two to one margin (http://m.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2016/03/alaska-nwr-cruel-practices-030116.html).
As a veterinary professional for over 20 years, I personally could not support any length of time for an animal to suffer in a trap or snare. Leg-hold traps use brute force to slam shut on the limb or paw of an animal and keep it there until the trapper returns. Trapped animals violently try to escape and sustain serious injuries such as broken limbs and broken teeth; dislocated shoulders; lacerations; fractures; amputation of digits, paws, or whole legs; physiological stress and or pain; dehydration; starvation and exposure. Animals could be stuck languishing in pain for days or weeks and exposed to extreme weather until the trapper returns to shoot the animal at point-blank range. Even more cruelly, wire snares grab limbs, paws, or even the neck of animal and tighten as the animal fights the device.
Also, these devices are inherently indiscriminate, catching federally-protected bald eagles and the like. To add insult to injury, trappers are not required to report to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game any non-target animals they capture, except for moose, caribou and the like, perhaps resulting in the trapping of hundreds if not thousands of non-target animals each year.
Ethical hunters use “fair chase” principles to guide their sport, including having the goal of gaining a clean kill shot so the animal does not suffer. Ethical hunters end suffering in a timely manner. Trappers hold no similar ethical standard. Literally in trappers’ grips, animals are left in fear and pain sometimes for a week or longer in Alaska.
In Alaska, traps are allowed near schools, homes, businesses, campgrounds and trails. As a result, many Alaskans and visitors have suffered when their pets are injured or killed by traps and snares. Alaska’s lack of trapping regulations is an unacceptable situation in the eyes of the majority of us. Alaska’s lack of regulation is a travesty that harms people, pets and wildlife.
Because the governor appoints BOG members, he can do something. Sadly, no “non-consumptive” user, that is the majority of us — the wildlife watchers, the hikers, the kayakers, the conservationists and the humanitarians are not represented at all — even as a state statute requires that members hold a “diversity” of “interests” and “viewpoints”. Alaskans deserve a more diverse membership on the BOG and one that is truly representative of the diversity of state residents because the regulations coming from this body are dangerous and wrongheaded.
• Michelle Anderson lives in Juneau.