History of the Alaska Trappers Assocation
by Pete Buist
On March 8, 1986, some 30 trappers carrying signs marched on the street in front of the office of the Anchorage Daily News for about 6 hours. They were calling attention to misleading and untrue ads being run in the paper by Outside animal rights groups and the paper's obvious anti-trapping bias that extended from the editorial page to the front page. Finally, Editor Howard Weaver came out and met with the group. No one seemed to think that the paper would change its editorial stance.
In Fairbanks, ATA held its first "downtown" fur auction during the Open North American Championship races. That same month, ATA applied to the Alaska Department of Revenue for a real "raffle/gaming permit" rather than just continuing to try and fly "under the radar!" We got it!
In April, ADFG reported that fuzzy, Samson-like "Mohawk" wolves were showing up on the Tanana Flats and Minto Flats. This was long before the appearance of lice on wolves in the Interior. The condition was attributed to genetics.
In the legislature, HB 207, a bill to more clearly define "bait" and protecting the privacy of trappers on sealing records was breezing along and eventually passed with little opposition.
In May, ATA representatives met with some of the Alaska members of Indigenous Survival International. ISI had circumpolar membership and influence. They were active primarily in Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland and had pretty good results defending the hunting, fishing and trapping rights of indigenous peoples. Most of the contact here in Alaska had been through the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurALCap.) Several ATA members from the villages were active. ATA donated $1000 to ISI.
Also that spring, some Canadian groups approached the International Standards Organization (ISO) about developing "standards for humane trapping of fur animals." The thought was apparently that if standards were developed and trappers agreed to abide by them, the antis would slack off. As many of us feared, all it got them was standards that led to the banning of several popular and useful kinds of traps.
In June, Governor Sheffield vetoed our hard-won CSHB207 (defining "bait," and protecting trapper privacy.) Apparently, some of the anti groups had gotten his ear and wanted to be able to track individual trappers who were sealing wolves.
Soon after the Governor's veto, ADFG was ordered by the Governor's Office and Department of Law to turn over all wolf sealing records to the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Greenpeace. The records included the trappers' names, addresses, and the location of their traplines. Exactly what the Governor had said "would not happen" had in fact occurred. ATA hired an attorney and filed suit to prevent further release of such records. Judge Blair ruled against ATA.
This was a terrible slap in the face to ATA. We had just helped the State establish a formal furbearer management program, raised our own license fees to fund it, and the State turns around and gives our names, addresses and trapline locations to animal rights groups. Trappers were hot and rightfully so. ATA appealed to Superior Court.
The first meeting of the fall season was held in October at our new meeting place, the handsome log Mushers Hall on Farmers Loop Road at the Jeff Studdert Track.
In December we were still awaiting Superior Court review of our lawsuit to keep our sealing records away from the animal rights groups. Also that month, ATA volunteered to break and mark the trail for the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, from Fairbanks to Mile 101 on the Steese Highway. This would entail using a lot of existing training trails between Fairbanks and Angel Creek/Chena Hot Springs and then some wild and wooly trail-breaking up over Rosebud Summit, across Birch Creek and out to 101 Mile! Most of the trail work was led by Larry Voorhees who was trapping up the North Fork of the Chena and knew the country.
The new year found the ATA Board pondering whether having Life Members was as terrific an idea as they had originally thought. The primary concern was financial. Their large payments would be spent and then we would be obligated to provide them with a magazine indefinitely. Others argued that if managed correctly, having the Life Member funds in an interest-bearing account would take care of the expense of providing the magazine. One other idea was to cap the number of Life Members at 50.
The Board also began negotiations with ADFG regarding the editing and publishing of an Alaska Trappers Manual.
The Fling had been garnering more support and participants lately, so the decision was made to move it to Dredge 8. Owner "Big John" Reeves had always been a supporter of trapping and ATA. The plan worked well. Trapper of the Year honors went to the person who had donated more items totaling more value than any other single person or business entity, Gator Meyer of Anderson.
Also in March, the long-awaited video "Trapping Alaska's Wild Canids" was released. The film, a collaborative effort between ADFG and ATA was the most definitive instructional video available on wolf trapping. Most of the filming was undertaken by Tok Area Biologist Dave Kelleyhouse and his Technician Dan Grangaard.
With the Legislature in session and good political solutions possible due to its makeup, ATA approached Rep. Dick Schultz of Tok to help out. Dick introduced HB 34, the Hunter/Trapper Anti-Harassment bill. In a separate bill, Dick introduced HB 82, clarifying the definition of bait.
Merrill Hakala became Life Member #50 and the Board decided that the Life Member program would continue. The Board voted to keep the Life Member funds separate from the operating funds, in an interest bearing account to support the benefits (such as A-T magazine) for the Life Members. They also raised the price tag of a Life Membership from $300 to $500. Congratulations went to Merrill for "getting in under the wire!"
In April, both ATA and the Alaska Outdoor Council were still actively fighting the efforts of the animal rights community to add lynx and wolverine to the "endangered species" list.
The 4th Annual Northern Furbearer Conference was sponsored by ADFG and held in Juneau.
Feeling flush with success, ATA in late spring hired Marti Steury as our "administrative coordinator." Marti, past Executive Director of the Yukon Quest, was to be in charge of fund raising, special events, ticket sales, etc.
In May, after some contentious discussions, the Board voted to drop their affiliation with AOC. Arguments on one side indicated that we were just too far "out of sync" with them on the subsistence issue (and many ATA members are in fact, "local rural residents.") Those arguing to remain affiliated were convinced that we had more in common with them on other issues, particularly "access." But in the end, ATA dropped its affiliation.
The same month, the Board voted to begin sending copies of "Alaska Trapper" to school libraries statewide.
While ATA activities had always been minimal during the summer months, a decision was made to try a "summer fur sale." The sale was held during Golden Days in Fairbanks. It was well-received and made some money for the treasury.
In August, ATA had a presence at the Tanana Valley State Fair. It was too late to have a booth of our own. We set up in a corner of Northern Power Sports' booth and sold our raffle tickets. The event was a success, although volunteer booth sitters were difficult to round up.
Also in August, Dean Wilson and Tom Hudson traveled to Mansfield, OH to represent ATA at the National Trappers Association convention. It was the first time that ATA had had a presence at this national event. We were well received.
In September, the Board voted to reward John Majak with a Life Membership in appreciation for all the sketches and drawings he had been doing for the magazine.
ATA started out the new year by reaffiliating with NTA and electing Tom Hudson as the President. In February we again agreed to break trail for the Yukon Quest, from Fairbanks to 101 Mile Steese.
On the legislative front, several bills of interest to trappers were in the hopper. SB 398 would have insured the confidentiality of trappers' sealing records. SB 397 was another shot at getting a Trapper/Hunter Anti-Harassment Law again. ATA member Ken Fanning had been appointed to fill an unexpired Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Don Bennett of Fairbanks and Central. Ken was truly the key to herding our trapping legislation through the mysterious halls of the Legislature in Juneau.
In March, ATA was successful in pressuring the Administration to back off their new "conflict of interest" policy. The new policy would have prevented ADFG employees from doing ANY trapping. ATA went to bat for department employees who trapped, with both the Commissioner and the Governor's offices. The department position was based on the assumption that it would be inappropriate for staff to make money by trapping the species they managed. ATA's position was that we welcomed ALL legal, ethical trappers. In addition, we thought that having department employees who actually trapped was a "good thing." We prevailed.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was still working hard to restrict or prevent trapping on most of that refuge and ATA was actively fighting them.
In April, Dean Wilson was appointed the NTA Director for Alaska. In May, Governor Cowper appointed Pete Buist to the Guide Licensing and Control Board.
In December 1988, Andy Burgess took over as Editor of "Alaska Trapper."
Also in December, trappers were shocked to hear that Dean Wilson's home at Copper Center had burned.
In February of 1989, George Esslinger of Anchorage, a student at Humboldt State University at Arcata, CA received a $2000 scholarship from the NTA. George's dad, Howard, was an ATA member.
In October of that year, Joe Dart was again hired as the editor of "Alaska Trapper."
In late November, a tagged wolf was trapped in the Chatanika River drainage, north of Fairbanks. The animal had originally been collared and tagged on the Kenai Peninsula, 400 miles south. While this animal appeared to be lice-free, trappers and biologists now knew that the threat of lice spreading from the Kenai to other parts of the state was very real.
The January issue of Alaska Trapper reflected that we were still discussing many of the same old issues:
- Registered traplines,
- Dogs vs. snogos for trapline transportation,
- What constitutes a humane trap, and
- Bracing ourselves for anti-trapping activity that was creeping north out of Lower 48 urban centers.
During Fur Rondy in Anchorage, a core group of ATA folks decided to get pro-active. Led and organized by Dr. John Burns, a cross-section of trappers, fur buyers, fur sewers, native leaders, and two employees of RurAL CAP, participated in three separate "pro-fur and trapping" demonstrations. They first demonstrated at the Rondy Fur Auction. From there they moved to the offices of the notoriously anti-trapping Anchorage Daily News. And finally they paraded at the Sullivan Area, at the Rondy Craft Show! They were well received by the public and the demonstrations got a lot of TV and print coverage.
In March, Senator Betty Fahrenkamp of Fairbanks introduced SB 576, a bill to keep ADFG sealing records confidential from the public.
At the April Board of Directors meeting, Tom Hudson resigned as President and Roly Quimby stepped in as Acting President. The Board also made a decision to cut back to publishing 7 issues of Alaska Trapper each year (Oct-Apr.)
May was marked by Joe Dart's rendition of the first attempt at writing a history of the Alaska Trappers Association. Joe also made his mark as he and Pete Buist manned an ATA booth at the local Earth Day celebration! Our message "Fur - The Environmentally Sound Choice" got a mixed response from the folks attending the celebration. Spirited debate was the order of the day!
In early autumn, the European Parliament proposed a regulation banning the importation of certain furs from countries that "allowed the use of steel leg-hold traps." If passed, the ban would take effect January 1, 1995. European politicians, apparently feeling guilty about their own environmental sins and trashing of their own land, appeared to be ready to rise to punish us for keeping ours wild and clean. ADFG volunteered to "monitor" the situation.
An article in a November edition of the University of Alaska - Fairbanks student newspaper, the Sun Star, noted the existence of three Animal Rights organizations in the state. Although most trappers had never heard of them, the groups were Alaskan Students Against Animal Cruelty and Alaska Animal Welfare Society in Fairbanks. In Anchorage, there was supposed to be a group called Alaskan People Against Cruelty to Animals.
At the December general membership meeting, all local legislators were invited. Rep Niilo Kopenen and Senator Steve Frank joined us.