KENAI - It's no secret that many Alaskans pride themselves for their rugged individualism, and part of this independence comes from the ability to be self-sufficient by hunting, fishing and living off the land.
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Although these pursuits don't end with the coming of the first snowfall, they do change. Rather than grabbing for a gun or pole, many instead go for their neck snares and leg hold traps to partake in one of Alaska's oldest means of acquiring furbearing animals - trapping.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge recently held its annual trapper orientation class and snaring seminar to educate those new to trapping.
"We want to teach people the trap safely, legally, ethically and humanly," said Gary Titus, one of the refuge employees overseeing the trapping classes and a trapper himself.
Annually, the refuge serves as a common stomping ground for trappers. In 2005-06 the refuge issued 58 trapping permits, of which 29 people reported actually trapping. Six of these 29 were unsuccessful, while the remaining 23 harvested 18 wolves, 41 coyotes, 10 ermine, 19 otter, six mink, 67 beavers and 52 muskrats. One lynx and one wolverine also were taken out of season and forfeited.
In order to ensure trappers are, and continue to be, good stewards of the land and the resource, Titus explained the trapping class is designed to be as comprehensive as possible.
"We've got biologists teaching about furbearer biology and biological aspects of trapping. We've got law enforcement officers talking about state and federal regulations. We've got Fish and Game employees talking about ethics - such as selective trapping, humane trapping and conflict reduction - all of which are very important," he said.
The majority - if not all - of those in the class were there to learn to trap for recreation, not for subsistence. Titus wanted to underscore to would-be trappers that their actions should reflect a strong conservation ethic.
"A lot of people think trappers are just out to kill animals, but that's the least important part of it. The appeal is being out there, outdoors, seeing the animal's tracks, following their movements and seeing their behaviors," Titus said.
Laine Lahndt, a member of the Alaska Trappers Association and a trapper with nearly 40 years experience, was brought in to teach the trapping methods portion of the class. He echoed Titus' sentiments.
"It's important that all trappers do it right. Fur should be harvested in a responsible way," he said.
In teaching trapping methods, Lahndt emphasized concepts such as reducing incidental catches, or nontarget animals.
He advised setting traps more than 30 feet from exposed bait to reduce catching scavengers such as bald eagles, setting well-anchored snares at least 16 inches above the ground and with a loop diameter of at least 14 inches to avoid catching lynx in wolf and coyote snares, and using "break away" snares in case a moose is accidentally caught.
Lahndt also emphasized knowing and using the proper methods for dispatching animals that are caught.
"No one wants to see an animal suffer. All good trappers want a quick, clean, humane kill," he said.
During the classes, trappers were also informed the refuge would continue to purchase skinned carcasses of radio-collared or ear-tagged wolves and lynx this season.
Information acquired from these animals furthers the refuge's knowledge of furbearer populations on the peninsula. Age, number and frequency of offspring produced, fat reserves, parasites, diseases and overall health can all be determined from the carcasses.