FAIRBANKS - Veteran Fairbanks trapper Ron Long summed up this year's trapping season so far in two words.
"Absolutely horrible," Long said.
Long and his partner usually have traps set along a good portion of their 150-mile trapline on the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks by now. This year, with one of the warmest, driest winters on record thus far, Long doesn't have a single lynx or wolf trap set.
"No. 1, we can't get across the (Tanana) river yet," Long said. "No. 2, there's no snow over there. I've been trapping 50 years and I've never seen it this bad."
While fur prices are up, catches are down because there are not many people trapping. There is not enough snow to run snowmachines in most places yet. Most people trapping have walking lines, or use airplanes to take them to lakes where they set up short walking lines.
"Guys with big snowmachine lines are the ones out of business and they're the ones that produce a lot of fur," said Tom Seaton of the state Department of Fish and Game.
At Fairbanks Fur Tannery, "just a few skins are coming in here and there," said owner Al Barrette, who runs a 30-mile trapline north of Fairbanks. Barrette, who runs his trapline by snowmachine, has not set out a trap.
"I've got to go through a lot of muskeg and I have a lot of river crossings," Barrette said. "My buddies have their stuff out and they're fighting it. Stuff is breaking. They've got ice on traps from the rain. Traps are not working efficiently."
Barrette usually concentrates on marten early in the season and then turns to lynx and wolves.
"I got to looking at the calendar and I don't even know if I'm going to set out any marten sets," he said. "Traditionally, my line has produced 75 percent of the marten I catch by Dec. 15. After that I don't even pay attention to them."
Some trappers are having some luck, Barrette said. He knows of two who trap off the Steese Highway who have caught three or four wolves and a couple of wolverines, he said.
Another trapper he knows has caught 120 marten running a trapline by four-wheeler in the White Mountains, Barrette said.
Veteran trapper Norm Phillips is having fair success trapping marten on an eight-mile line about 125 miles north of Fairbanks.
"There's more snow up north," he said. "We've probably got eight inches. It's enough to cover everything."
Still, Phillips said, conditions are as bad as he's seen in more than 50 years in Alaska.
"I've been here since 1950 and I've never seen (a winter) go this long without snow," he said. "We've had some with very little snow, but they haven't lasted this long. I don't think I've ever gone out when there's been this little snow."