Dog owners and fur trappers say they don't want to limit the recreational activities of one another, but a proposed ordinance has them divided, as both sides worry about the balance of safety and land use rights around trails near Anchorage.

AO 2019-50, introduced by Assembly members Pete Petersen and Suzanne LaFrance, would change trapping regulations in the Municipality of Anchorage to create buffer zones on trails to protect the public's safety.

It's currently illegal to trap in the majority of the Anchorage Bowl, an area known as Unit 14C, according to state law. However, there are many areas that allow trapping in the municipality: portions of Chugach State Park, the Portage area, Girdwood, Bird Creek, Indian, designated parts of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Chugiak/Peter's Creek and the area North of Eklutna. 

The ordinance would make it illegal to trap within 50 yards of developed or public-use trails as well as within one-quarter mile of trailheads, campgrounds and permanent dwellings. All game traps and snares would have to be marked with a trapper identification number issued by the State of Alaska or contact information for the owner of the trap or snare.

Restrictions were drafted to mirror state regulations already in place for Chugach State Park, which would impact large traps used for furbearers — such as coyote, fox, beaver, lynx and wolves — but not rabbits and mice. 

A draft of AO 2019-50, as well as a memorandum from co-sponsor Assembly member Pete Petersen, states the ordinance is not intended to regulate trapping as a whole, but to create safe spaces for trail-users and their pets to recreate.

"Most people in Alaska consider their pets to be household family members and so if a member of your family happens to be caught in a trap and is severely injured or killed, it's an emotional event," Petersen said. "So I felt it was important to try to reduce the chance of that happening, if not eliminate it."

For years, pets have been have been caught — and some killed — in traps in Southcentral. A 2017 news release from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, after its Assembly passed a trapping ban in select recreation areas, cited statistics from Animal Care and Regulation that 11 dogs were reported in traps in the previous five years. 

Dog-owner Rebecca Shaffer says the unthinkable happened to her last December on a trail she had hiked more than a dozen times. She was hiking with her two dogs, Kai and Chloe, on Kern Creek Trail near Girdwood. Five minutes in, she heard Chloe cry out.

"It wasn't a yell. It was like a straight-up like ear-piercing," said Shaffer. "The worst sound I had ever heard her make and I knew it was a trap."

When she found Chloe, the dog was stuck in a Conibear body-gripping trap baited with fish heads almost 17 yards from the trail. Shaffer had heard stories of dogs getting stuck in traps while off-leash on trails and had bought traps to learn how to operate them.

Shaffer said nothing prepared her for the situation. In a Facebook post after the incident, she described how the trap closed behind Chloe's ears and how the dog labored to breathe.

 

"She just kept looking at me and it was like she trusted me even though she was pretty much dying and we just worked through it,” Shaffer said. 

After a tiring hour-and-a-half-long battle with the trap, Shaffer was able to get Chloe free. The dog was doing well until a few months ago; a veterinarian said she died from a blood clot in her neck.

Now, Shaffer is hesitant on trails.

"It's like going into a mine field. There could be traps in here even right now, which kind of scares the hell out of me," said Shaffer as she walked along the trail.

Even after losing her dog, she isn't upset with trappers or the lifestyle of trapping. Shaffer said she knows the importance trapping holds for those who do it and she wants them to be able to enjoy the land, too. However, she hopes there's a safe way for the two groups to coexist. 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates there are between 2,500–3,500 trappers in the state. Members of the Alaska Trappers Association (ATA) say they would rather work together than add more laws onto the ones already in place.

"The Trappers Association sees the proposed ordinance as an overreaction to a problem that could be more effectively addressed in other ways," said Pete Buist, a spokesperson for ATA.

To trap, a person needs to have a trapping license and they must trap in an open season for a permitted species. The ATA worked with Fish and Game to develop the trapper's code of ethics, including using trapping methods that reduce the chances of catching "nontarget animals." But not everyone follows the rules, Buist said, which makes other trappers look bad.

Buist said he wants the Assembly to work with Fish and Game and the Trappers Association to do more outreach and education on the issue instead of imposing an ordinance. 

"We are all dog owners, too," Buist said. "I don’t think anyone wants to see a dog in a trap."

If the focus is on trapping laws, leash laws should be looked at as well, Buist said.

Laura Atwood with Anchorage Animal Care and Control said leash laws within the municipality require owners to have dogs on a leash unless an area is designated for off-leash recreation. In Chugach State Park, pets must be kept on leash at all campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots and trailheads. Pets must be under complete control, which includes voice commands, in the backcountry, according to the state Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

In the past two years, lawmakers in Juneau have considered bills regarding municipal regulation of trapping. House Bill 117, introduced late last month, would update state statute to expand municipal power to prohibit placement of traps where they could likely cause injury, as well as placing restrictions on the types of traps allowed. The bill states a municipality would also have the authority to set requirements for trap identification and signage. If passed, HB 117 would take effect January 1, 2020. 

If the ordinance passes, trapping in a prohibited zone would carry a fine of $500. Trappers who fail to mark a trap or snare would be fined $200.  

The Anchorage Assembly planned a work session for the proposed ordinance April 19 at noon. Following that meeting, Assembly members decided to postpone the public discussion on the trapping ordinance until May 7. It was originally scheduled for April 23.

Petersen said Monday the Assembly received a great deal of input during the work session, which will result in additions and changes to the proposed ordinance.

Editor's note: This story has been updated after the Anchorage Assembly decided not to hear public testimony on the trapping ordinance during its April 23 meeting.

Jes Stugelmayer and Gina Romero contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

RELATED NEWS COVERAGE: