My Turn: Trappers, trail users must coexist

  • By MARK KAELKE
  • Wednesday, October 14, 2015 1:03am
  • Opinion

This is a story I had no desire to tell publicly, but recent events, opinion pieces and advertisements now compel me to do so.

In late January 2014, I was walking my dogs after work on a local trail. About halfway through the walk, two of my dogs left my side and before long I discovered both had been caught in leg hold traps. After some frenzied effort, made more difficult by the fact it was dark, I was able to release both dogs and return to the trailhead.

After a check of regulations on the Internet later that night, I found out the trail is in an area that’s completely closed to trapping. First thing the next morning I reported the incident and agreed to lead the authorities to the location of the traps. This was not difficult, as the traps were less than 200 yards off the trail. The light of day revealed many more traps in a roughly 400-square-foot area, which was heavily baited with waterfowl and beaver carcasses. Given the amount of bait, its proximity to the trail and the wind direction the previous night, it wasn’t surprising my dogs had gone to investigate.

The authorities removed the traps and bait and after a short time were able to locate the trapper in question, who later contacted me and was very apologetic. Although he was an experienced trapper, he didn’t know the area was closed to trapping and had apparently accessed the area from off the trail and was not aware how close his sets were to the trail itself.

Although I fully intended to press charges and publicize the incident initially, my dogs were off leash and I accept that it subjects them to certain risks. Between that and the fact my dogs sustained only minor injuries and the trapper apologized and compensated me for their vet visit, I elected not to proceed. It was far from the best walk I’ve ever taken but in the end no one was really worse for wear.

Fast-forward to the current situation in which a lawsuit has been filed against a person who sprung traps out of concern for dogs and trail users. The common thread between that situation and my story is traps placed near trails used by non-trappers. I hunt and fish and am not opposed to trapping, but for the benefit of all parties there needs to be clarification on where traps may be placed so that non-trappers can avoid these areas entirely if they choose — and trappers know exactly where they can and can’t trap. Simply relegating dogs to leashes at all times, as has been suggested recently, is not a reasonable solution given dogs under voice control can be off leash legally and still end up in traps. I see the prohibition of trapping, as some animal rights activists will almost surely suggest, as an equally untenable solution.

The City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Forest Service should convene a discussion between reasonable Juneau trappers and trail users so that common-sense rules, which allow both trappers to trap without conflict and trail users to avoid areas with traps, are developed or at a minimum better publicized. I also think that any lawsuits regarding traps should be dropped as a good faith gesture toward addressing this issue as a community rather than two factions. We have a lot of trails here, trapping season runs only part of the year and we certainly don’t need groups from outside Juneau using local issues to further their various agendas. There’s room for a solution here that doesn’t involve the court.

• Mark Kaelke is a Juneau resident.

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