Alaska's Trapping Heritage
Trapping has been economically and culturally important to Alaska's people since time immemorial. This seasonal harvest of wildlife provides the meat and warm fur needed to sustain life in the north. Thick fur parkas, mitts, hats and leggings protect against bitterly cold temperatures, enabling Alaskans to survive in the harsh Arctic environment.
Trapping has always been at the heart of trade in Alaska. Inter-regional fur trade between the state's earliest inhabitants provided food and clothing not available to Native peoples within their own communities. Soon after Russian explorers arrived in Alaska in the mid-1700s, brisk commerce developed between Alaska Natives and Russian fur traders. This lucrative industry attracted explorer/merchants from other countries such as Spain, France and America. The British Hudson Bay Company established a trading post in Interior Alaska in 1847 and Alaska Natives soon began exchanging furs for manufactured goods of the West such as iron tools, clothing and beads.
Trapping continues to be a very important part of the Alaska economy to this day. It is particularly important in rural communities because it provides cash income during the winter when few jobs exist in most isolated villages. In the larger towns and villages, trapping income provides a supplement to salaries and a healthy, pleasant outdoor pastime during the colder months.
Each year thousands of Alaskans buy trapping licenses. The annual fur harvest is a significant source of income to the mixed subsistence-cash economies of many Alaskan communities. The fur checks can make a substantial difference in a family's yearly budget.
Trappers and their families also use much fur. These Alaskan fur sewers are famous worldwide for the unique and exquisite fur garments, arts and handicrafts they produce from the animals they trap. The money raised in this cottage industry may pay for necessities for survival.
Residents of arctic climes wear animal skins and fur not as a fashion statement, but rather for the warmth, durability and protection they offer. Many furbearers, such as lynx, beaver and muskrat are also important as food for human consumption.
Alaskan trappers are proud of how they pass along their wilderness skills from generation to generation on family traplines. This activity is not pursued frivolously, but rather out of necessity and with a great respect for the interdependence of man and wildlife in the north. Trapping teaches youth valuable survival skills and a sense of responsibility to families and communities. Skilled trappers are looked up to and honored.
More than a dozen species of furbearers are commonly trapped in Alaska, from the tiny ermine to the wolf. All these furbearers are not only common, but also abundant. None are endangered or threatened. All are managed professionally by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Harvest seasons and bag limits are set by the Alaska Board of Game.