Chugach wolverine season catches six dogs

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A new measure allowing the trapping of wolverines in Chugach State Park has ended for the season. The score is: Wolverines 2, dogs 6.

The Alaska Board of Game last spring approved a wolverine trapping season for the popular park near Anchorage. At the time, Anchorage area biologist Rick Sinnott advised against it, warning that the move would endanger pets.

A 1995 aerial survey determined that there were as few as 11 wolverines in all 1,900 square miles of Game Management Unit 14C. The area, which is as large as the state of Delaware, encompasses the park as well as the sprawling backcountry to the east.

"There are going to be all these baits out there with these killer traps on them, and they're going to kill dogs - it's almost inevitable," Sinnott said at the time.

The first winter wolverine trapping season recently concluded.

In the game management unit, only two wolverines were caught by trappers, Sinnott reported Friday. At the same time, six dogs were caught by traps.

Four of them were snared outside the park in incidents involving leg-hold traps. None of those dogs were fatally injured, Sinnott said. Though one broke off its canine teeth trying to chew its way out of the trap.

The two dogs that ran into traps inside the park, however, were less fortunate. Both were caught in legally set Conibears intended for wolverines not far off well-traveled trails.

A 3-year-old pitbull and Labrador retriever mix belonging to Holly Grant of Anchorage was crushed to death on Jan. 17 near Indian Trail off Turnagain Arm.

The other, which occurred only three days later off Bird Creek trail, ensnared Midnight, a 6-year-old Labrador owned by Anchorage resident Janice Troyer. It could easily have ended the same way, save an extraordinary effort by Troyer, a 50-year-old lifelong Alaskan.

She'd been skiing with three friends up Bird Creek Trail that Sunday. They were about three or four miles from the trailhead, having veered up Penguin Creek Trail to the right.

"I was really trying to watch my dog because we'd seen the 'trapping' sign (at the trailhead)," Troyer said. "Then he perked up and darted into the trees. As soon as he disappeared, I heard a really loud 'yelp.' I knew immediately it was serious, and he was probably in a trap."

Pulling off her skis, she dashed about 20 yards off the trail and found him. His neck was caught between the two bars of a Conibear and he was thrashing and squealing.

Troyer screamed to her friends for help. All three were spread out down the trail. Meanwhile, she tried as hard as she could to pull the bars apart. They wouldn't budge. Just trying to pull them, however, seemed to relieve some pressure from Midnight's neck.

"He was gasping for air," she said. "I just kept looking at his eyes making sure he was still alive."

It took about five minutes for her first friend, Madeleine Grant to reach them, Troyer said. The two women tried together to pull the bars apart, but had no more luck than before.

About 15 minutes after the dog was caught in the trap, friends Shelly Lipman and Pam Robinson skied into view. None of them knew how to open the 330 Conibear wolverine trap.

Straining as hard as they could, the bars separated ever so slightly, and Troyer pulled Midnight free. In a few minutes, he was breathing normally again.

Troyer says she has her friends to thank for saving Midnight's life.

"Had I been by myself, my dog would be dead," she said.

Troyer said she saw the sign at the parking lot but assumed that the state wouldn't allow traps to be set so close to trails heavily used by backcountry skiers and their pets.

Now, officials are rethinking where traps can be legally set. In January, when Grant's and Troyer's dogs were caught, no state regulation stipulated how far off park trails traps need to be placed.

State parks director Chris Degernes recently asked the Board of Game to require a 100-yard setback. Meeting in Fairbanks this week, board members agreed to a 50-yard setback and no traps within a quarter-mile of trailheads and highways, according to Cathy Harms, a Fish and Game spokeswoman in Fairbanks.

The board also voted to require trappers to register and mark their traps with an identifying tag.

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