Trappers who misuse tools a sore spot for all

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

In terms of the recent string of birds of prey caught in traps set for other animals an old cliche comes to mind: A few bad apples can ruin the whole bunch.

While not a trapper myself, I understand that there is a distinct group of people who enjoy the pastime of pursuing pelts and/or attempting to outwit an animal. This is typically done by learning a tremendous amount about the target species' niche in the environment and its patterns of behavior. Nature is harsh, and animals literally continue to survive day by day by cunningly outwitting would-be predators, including humans. To catch one -- particularly the more upper echelon predators like lynx, coyotes and wolves -- you have to know a lot about them if there is any hope of outwitting one.

Then there are the layers of rules and regulations which must be adhered to -- put forth by the state, and locally the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, to safely and ethically harvest animals.

Despite all this, some people still find a way to muck it up, and by proxy they often make everyone else pursing this hobby or lifestyle look bad in the eyes of the general public.

I can relate; as a dog musher I am always concerned with the actions of other "mushers" who quickly get in and out of this lifestyle. It seems like every few years a person who is captivated by the romantic notion being a musher will start acquiring dogs without doing their homework or learning from a reputable musher.

They quickly see that for every hour spent running dogs, there are typically four to five hours spent caring for and cleaning up after them. Then there also is the tremendous expense that comes with owning dogs.

As reality sets in with these folks who didn't research their hobby before jumping into it with both feet, they are now stuck with more mouths to feed then they can, or care to, afford.

As it has played out in the past, a few of these unsavory characters will either massacre their heathy but now unwanted dog team, or worse yet, just neglect feeding and caring for their dogs until someone happens to notice and call in the authorities or an animal welfare agency.

The headline to this story is never "Wanna-be musher starves his dogs," rather it is "Musher starves his dogs." By proxy, I and every other responsible musher I know will suffer for the actions of these fools. We all lose the trust and respect of those outside our lifestyle, even though we didn't and never would, do anything close to the despicable deeds of these so-called "mushers."

Mike Crawford, president of the Kenai Peninsula Trapper's Association, said he and the other responsible trappers in the organization can relate. They now all suffer the same fate as a result the actions of whoever has recently set these traps -- likely with exposed bait and definitely not anchored well -- that are catching birds of prey.

"Just because a guy sets a trap doesn't mean he is a trapper," Crawford said, and this statement should be seriously mulled over by those who would be quick to lambast the actions of all trappers because of the misdeeds of a few.

Whether you agree with trapping or find it a loathsome, antiquated activity is not the point. Trapping is legal and going to occur, but as such, everyone -- responsible trappers and non-trappers alike -- should work together to ensure that anyone who uses a trap follows the proper procedures for the safe and ethical harvest of only target species.

Those who don't should suffer the penalty, and not just the typical fines or jail time. More importantly they should be made examples of. Not as trappers, but as people who endanger trapping by misusing the tools of this trade.

There is a clear difference between a responsible trapper and a would-be trapper, and the line between them is not blurry, it's just not always clear to those who don't understand it exists.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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