Featured, Outdoors

Pets and Traps: Avoiding Backcountry Encounters

by Brian Wright for Seward City News-
Conibear model 220 body-gripping trap, set,” similar to the one that caught Valdez resident Chris Moulton’s pet. Photo: ScottSloe/CC BY 3.0

When Valdez resident Chris Moulton heard a horrible shriek echo through the dark forest, he knew instantly his dog was in trouble.

Moulton was hiking with his husky-Shepard mix, Nukka, on the Keystone Canyon Trail, a popular hiking trail. Though he was aware dogs were supposed to be leashed within Valdez city limits, he had seen no cars at the trailhead and decided to let Nukka run free. This choice, however, had taken a turn for the worse.

“I took off running into the dark woods and found her not far off the trail panicking and struggling with what was a Conibear Trap 330 around her neck; effectively strangling her and tightening as she struggled to breathe,” Moulton explained. “I struggled with it for what seemed an eternity, until she collapsed; eyes rolling back and tongue hanging dry out of her mouth. I figured she was dead.”

Moulton used his leash to loosen the trap enough to allow his dog to breathe. He then was able to recruit help after a series of frantic calls to friends. Ultimately, Nukka was freed and the ending to this story was not nearly as disastrous as it could have been.

“The vet was amazed how unscathed Nukka appeared, although she was visibly shaken and protective of herself for a few days. Nothing some belly rubs and treats couldn’t fix.” Moulton now carries a kit of items to use in the event of a future encounter. He also holds annual workshops to teach dog owners how to release their pets from traps.

Avoiding unfortunate incidents such as this is everyone’s goal. With trapping season underway or nearly underway (depending on the area and the targeted animal) the conversation of pet safety and trapper’s rights has been renewed.

Trapping has a long history in Alaska. Indigenous groups such as the Alutiiq and Aleut relied on fur harvested from spruce snares and other traps for clothing. Later, when the Russians came to Alaska, the fur trade was one of the dominant motivators. Between 1747 and 1799, the Russians exported around 187,000 pelts from the Alaska region.

The United States took control of Alaska via the Alaska Purchase in 1867. Trapping and the fur trade were again one of the paramount driving forces behind the region’s economy. Between 1867 and 1890, over half a million pelts were exported from Alaska.

Although the fur trade has diminished in modern times, there are many who continue the tradition of trapping. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game estimates there are between 2,500 and 3,500 active trappers living in the state. According to their data, marten are the most important species for modern trappers followed by wolves, wolverines, beaver, and fox.

With expanding recreational interests in Alaska’s backcountry, run-ins between pets and traps are inevitable. This conflict of usage has led to some controversy over the years. In 2015, a Cooper Landing group, the Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails in Cooper Landing, submitted a proposal to the board of game that would restrict trapping within 250 feet of most trailheads, campgrounds, and popular trails in the Kenai Peninsula. This proposal was defeated.

The Alaska Trapper’s Association opposes legislation to restrict trapping. However, they encourage trappers to adopt practices that will reduce the likelihood of capturing someone’s pet and have made avoiding such encounters one of the primary goals of their education program. They also place some responsibility on dog owners. Recently, the organization released a 36-minute video entitled “Sharing Alaska’s Trails: Traps and Trapping” designed to educate non-trappers about best practices to avoid incidents like the one Moulton encountered.

A demonstration at the November 4th SOS Pets event on how to release a trap. Photo courtesy Stephanie Millane

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“Make no mistake about it,” says Pete Buist in this video, “Having a dog caught in a trap is a royal pain for everyone, including the trapper.” The video highlights how accidental pet trappings adversely affect the trapper and trapping industry, including loss of potentially lucrative trapping sites, financial liability, and negative publicity.

On Saturday November 4th, Save Our Seward Pets (SOS Pets) hosted a trapping awareness event at the Seward Firehouse. Covered during the event were specifics about the trapping season, types of traps, and how to release them should a pet become ensnared.

“There are not many true laws about trapping in Alaska,” said SOS Pets treasurer Jane Belovarac. Belovarac pointed out that while it is illegal to trap within city limits, public land is open to trapping anywhere. “Most trappers do abide by the [Alaska Trapper’s] ethical code,” said Belovarac. “It is not economical when a trap catches something other than its intended prey.”

Trappers are not required to take orientation classes, place identification tags on traps or post signs at the beginning/end of trap lines in the Kenai Peninsula, though such practices are encouraged by the Trapper’s Association. Such regulations do exist, however, on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Although there is no specific data available on accidental pet entrapments locally, Belovarac noted that virtually all of the roughly 20 people in attendance “knew someone whose pet had gotten caught if not their own.”

Alaska’s public lands are enjoyed by users of varying ilk. Education, responsibility and awareness are the courses to avoid unfortunate run-ins.

More information about trapping and trapping awareness can be found on the Alaska Fish and Game website as well as the Alaska Trapper’s Association website.

To learn more about how to release your pet from a trap you can view the following informative videos:

How to release a pet from a body trap:

How to release your pet from a coilspring foothold trap:

How to release your pet from a longspring foot-hold trap:

How to release your pet from a jump trap:

How to release your pet from a snare:

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