History of the Alaska Trappers Assocation
by Pete Buist
In January, ADFG established an Alaska Wolf Management Planning Team and charged the team with advising the department on the development of a statewide wolf management policy.In the January edition of Alaska Trapper, members heard opposing views about re-affiliating with the Alaska Outdoor Council. February saw Senator Steve Frank introduce SB 144, to establish the Alaska Fur Resources Conservation Commission. Also, ATA again sponsored a series of pro-fur/trapping demonstrations during Fur Rondy events in Anchorage. Our float in the Rondy Parade won second place. Trappers were getting good press. In March, SCCATA publicly offered a $100 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who illegally set the trap that caught a dog along the Eagle River Valley trail. SCCATA also manned a booth at the AK Foundation for North American Wild Sheep "Sheep Show."
In April, trapper Alex Tarnai received $40,000 in a settlement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service at the Nowitna NWR. More importantly, the settlement included agreements from USFWS to stop harassing trappers with cabins on the new refuges.
On Saturday, April 6, a group of Animal Rights advocates left the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks and paraded down University Avenue carrying signs and shouting slogans. Alert trappers rose to the occasion. Soon, trappers with their own signs and slogans outnumbered the ARAs. After a while, it began to look like nothing more than a pro-trapping rally. The ARAs finally gave up and scattered!
1991 brought to a head a ton of anti-trapping and anti-trap activity. The European Economic Community (now known as the European Union or simply EU) passed Regulation 3254, banning the use of leg-hold traps in the member countries and the use of fur taken in leg-holds, as of January 1995. Animal rights advocates had won a huge victory. It would remain to be seen how this would affect the marketing of American fur.
In California, legislators mandated the use of only padded leg-hold traps. Lending credence to the "slippery slope" theory, later they would go on to ban all but "cage" (live) traps and fairly well kill off the fur industry in that state.
By fall, the Alaska Trappers Manual, a joint production of ADFG and ATA was off the presses and available to the public. It was well received and continues as a "best seller" from the ATA Retail Store.
In October, ADFG rolled out their "Zonal Wolf Management Plan." ATA supported the concept, but urged in an official resolution that no state land be placed in the zones where trapping, hunting and habitat manipulation/enhancement programs were precluded. The ATA argument was based on Title VIII of the Alaska Constitution.
At its November meeting, a divided Board of Game voted to prohibit "Same Day Airborne" wolf trapping.
In January of 1992, the ATA Speakers' Bureau was born. Organized and managed by Randy Zarnke, the Speakers Bureau would go on to become and remain one of ATA's most important public relations functions.
In yet another example of community service, ADFG and ATA began sending complimentary copies of the Alaska Trappers Manual to 300 libraries across the state. Every community in Alaska with a school received a copy. Larger communities got multiple copies.
The ATA Board, now 15 members strong, decided in February to reduce the size of the Annual Trappers Fling. Rather than a fund raiser, the event had become an expense. Since it was now a "social," the Directors decided to move the smaller event from Dredge 8, to the Moose Hall on 10th Avenue.
In February, news spread that a National Park Service study on the wolves of Denali Park was turning up some interesting preliminary data. Despite public clamor that "trappers were destroying the park's wolf population," the data showed that 52% of wolf mortality there was attributable to other wolves. In addition, 33% of the mortality was due to other natural causes such as drowning, avalanches and disease. Only 15% of Denali's wolves were being killed by humans (primarily trapping).
In this year's Rondy Parade, the SCCATA float won FIRST prize!
In March, ADFG broke its promise to ATA and eliminated the position of Statewide Furbearer Coordinator. The biologist in the position, Herb Melchior became a Regional Biologist for R-III. There was no word as to how much of his time could be spent on furbearer issues. After working so hard with the Department and the Legislature to create the position and fund it with a trapping license increase, this change was very disappointing. Predictably, the trapping license fee increase was left in place!
In November, during the fall moose surveys, pilot, trapper and ATA member Joe Firmin of Fort Yukon was killed in an aircraft accident.
January of 1993 saw one of the greatest fiascos in Alaskan conservation history. Governor Hickel called a "Wolf Summit" in Fairbanks. Like other interested "stakeholders," ATA had representatives present among the 3,500 people in attendance. We also hosted Tom Krause of WY, representing NTA and Janice Henke representing Furbearers Unlimited.
The crowds at the Carlson Center were complete with demonstrations, both pro- and con- wolf control and wolf harvest in general. Highlights included participation of representatives from all the big-monied animal rights groups from Outside. There were some speeches that would just tear your heart out. Priscilla Feral of the Friends of Animals in Darian, CT made her famous speech after hearing ATA member Gilbert Huntington of Galena. She proclaimed that Gilbert was "... not a real Indian. ... the real Indians are out in the villages."
ATA's position was articulated well by Norm Phillips Sr. Other eloquent ATA members included Ben Hopson Jr. of Anaktuvuk Pass and Sidney Huntington of Galena. As near as anyone could tell, basically nothing came of all this hoopla! There was no consensus and everyone went home feeling like the State had spent a lot of money for nothing. ATA, on the other hand, sold over 400 Wolf Summit sweat shirts and t-shirts and made a bunch of money.
Norm Phillips, Sr was again serving as President of ATA. The Board now consisted of 15 total directors. In February we held our very first ATA Wolf Trapping School, featuring instructors Ben Hopson Jr of Anaktuvuk Pass and Jim Smith from Gold King. The class was determined to be a great success.
In March, ATA donated a fur coat to the winner of the Miss Alaska USA contest. More good publicity for trappers.
In January, trappers were interested to learn that in December, Jim Masek had taken 12 wolves simultaneously in one set on his trapline on Minto Flats! Editor Joe Dart quipped that from then on, catching 12 wolves would be called a "Masek" of wolves...
In February we held our 2nd Annual Wolf School.
In March, the Trappers Fling moved to Wickersham Hall in downtown Fairbanks. Tickets were still $10 per person. Soon thereafter, our storage facility was broken into. Trooper Scott Johnson stopped a "suspicious vehicle" soon after and found that it contained a trunk full of raw fur. ATA got most of their fur back.
In May, as the 18th Legislature came to a close, the budget included a capital appropriation of $200,000 to ADFG for the "protection of Alaska's fur industry!" The funds were used to produce two video programs. One was entitled "Alaska's Fur Heritage." The second was the so-called "fur handling video" which is still in use today. Our citizen lobbying effort had paid off in spades.
At the Tanana Valley Fair in August, ATA was raffling off a full-length lynx coat. Second prize was a .300 Win Mag rifle.
In the fall ATA election, Pete Buist was elected President once more. At about the same time, the Delta Chapter of ATA surged back to life.
In December, Governor Tony Knowles, firmly in the camp of the anti-trappers and animal rights folks, took office and almost immediately called a halt to the Game Management Unit 20A wolf-snaring project. Not coincidentally, this was just after animal rights activist Gordon Haber escorted a television news crew and an Anchorage Daily News photographer to a site on Moody Creek where several wolves were alive in snares. In another "shot heard [and seen] round the world," they filmed an ADFG employee dispatching the trapped wolves with .22 LR shells in a .22 Mag cylinder. The killing did not go well, but the distribution of the video went everywhere and was widely exploited by groups which were opposed to hunting, trapping or controlling wolves.
In January, Golden Valley Electric Association announced its intention to build an electric transmission line across the Tanana Flats. Each of the potential routes crossed and invariably interfered with multiple traplines.
The same month, Governor Knowles came to Fairbanks for an inauguration celebration. He was met at Fairbanks International Airport by several dozen protestors, most of them trappers, concerned about his stopping of the wolf control work in Game Management Unit 20A.
Joe Dart was working on an Alaska Wolf Trapping Manual, primarily a compilation of wolf articles that had previously been published in "Alaska Trapper."
ADFG, in the person of Biologist Mark McNay, was beginning extensive work on testing breakaway snare locks. Trappers were concerned about accidental catches of moose in wolf snares. Photos of moose accidentally caught in wolf snares had been published in several Alaskan newspapers.
Senator Bert Sharp introduced SB 38 to allow trappers to use ORVs, primarily snowmachines, within 5 miles of the pipeline, north of the Yukon River.
ATA moved its retail outlet from Alaska Raw Fur Company to Arctic Gun Works, with thanks to Sandy and Joe Mattie for their service in the past and a grateful nod to Gary and Nancy Junk for taking it on. Also in January, thanks to Randy Zarnke and a committee of volunteers, ATA had its first display in the entryway of the Noel Wien Library. This began a tradition that would continue for many years.
March found us having another Fling at Wickersham Hall.
The same month, ATA presented a hooped decorative beaver to ADFG. It still hangs in the Regional Office with a plaque "in recognition of our mutual commitment to wildlife in Alaska."
ADFG decided to allow "non-salvageable" pieces of moose and caribou from such things as road kill and Alaska Railroad kill to be used for trapping bait. A registration system was to be utilized. ATA designated Jimmy Walters as "carrion boy!" Jimmy collected and stored the bait. Trappers simply registered at ADFG and then picked up their frozen road kill from Jim!
In May, after the season closed, a wolf was found dead in a snare near Denali National Park. The local environmentalists were left clamoring even louder for a "buffer zone" around the outside of the northeast end of the park where no wolf trapping would be allowed. Apparently 6 million acres was a little small for the wolves that spend time in the park.
In mid-June, a bicyclist was attacked by a wolf along the Seward Highway.
In August, ADFG held its first-ever Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop. ATA was there with their first, of many, BOW scholarships.
Also in August, ATA and other conservation groups met with Commissioner of Fish and Game Frank Rue to discuss wolf issues. It was not a particularly productive meeting, since there was little common ground.
Perhaps sensing that they had a friend in the Governor's mansion in Juneau and playing off the after-season find of the snared wolf just outside the DNP boundary, Friends of Animals based in Darian, CT, kicked off a new national campaign. The thrust of the campaign was that the National Park Service at Denali NP was "failing to protect park wolves!"
Randy Zarnke represented ATA at the NTA national convention in August in Ohio. Also that month, Subsistence Division tried to abscond with $50,000 of the monies allocated to Wildlife Conservation. Their idea was to start an oral history project and form a clearing house for "trapping issues." WC was successful in fending off the raid.
In September ATA saw an example of where the "sticking up for the Alaska fur industry" monies were going. ADFG sent a 7 minute of trapping video and information to 75 European broadcast outlets. The material emphasized that an EU fur ban would have a negative impact both on wildlife conservation programs and northern peoples. The same month, ADFG also completed the taping for "Alaska's Fur Heritage." This film was 23 minute long (designed to fit 30 minute television slots) and was narrated by Governor Jay Hammond.
Also in September, dissatisfied with the lack of progress of the Fortymile Caribou Planning Group, a few trappers got together and formed a cooperative group called the Caribou Calf Protection Program (CCPP.) The CCPP initiated a private incentive program for trapping wolves in that specific area. Trappers had to pre-register and location of the sets where the wolves were taken was required. A $400 "incentive" was paid for each wolf hide taken in the specified area and skinned and handled for taxidermy. To fund the program, the CCPP then had most of the wolf skins tanned and the nicer ones sold for $1000 each. Additional donations were solicited. The program began working almost right away. Few problems were encountered.