Mark Luttrell detests trapping. And he acknowledges that on a Kenai Peninsula hike recently, his emotions on the issue got the better of him.
It was about two weeks ago that Luttrell, 46, parked his vehicle at Mile 13.2 of the Seward Highway and walked back into the Snow River drainage, a broad river valley flanked by steep peaks that's popular among hunters and hikers alike.
It was cold, around zero, and the ground was covered with snow. Luttrell said he was enjoying the exercise and scenery when he came upon a cluster of animal snares and traps.
The traps -- 20 snares, 5 leg-holds, 2 "killer-style" traps and a few smaller devices for weasels -- were set legally, targeting mostly wolves, wolverines and coyotes, according to Alaska State Troopers.
There were no animals in the traps when Luttrell spotted them, but he was convinced there would be soon if he didn't do something. He said a beaver head and skinned carcasses had been set out as bait.
"I knew that this would not only get one wolf, but maybe a whole pack of wolves," Luttrell said Thursday from his home in Seward, where he's lived for about two decades.
Luttrell does not like trapping. He said that years ago he was walking with his yellow Labrador, Sunny, when the dog got caught in a snare.
"I was right behind her, but it still took me several minutes to release the snare that was choking her," he said.
Sunny survived. After that, Luttrell started carrying cable cutters with him whenever he hiked, even when he went alone, without his dog. He had them with him when he ran across the traps and snares in the Snow River drainage in mid January.
"What trappers do is needless, tortuous and cruel," Luttrell said Thursday. "What I did was wrong, but it was not evil."
Luttrell tripped the traps, cut the cable grounding them and stuffed the devices, 30 in all, in his backpack, troopers said. Then he hiked a short distance away, dumped the $250 worth of gear under a tree, and left.
Wildlife enforcement trooper Marc Cloward learned of the missing traps from the owner, who could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Cloward said such sabotage is not unusual.
"There's just such strong feelings on both sides," he said. "Some people, they think it's brutal, and to a certain extent they might be right. But right now in Alaska, trapping is legal. To go out and deprive somebody of that right is wrong. Not to mention, (in this case) it was theft."
Not long after hearing from the trapper, Cloward ran into Luttrell outside a Seward courtroom as Luttrell was breaking from jury duty. He asked Luttrell, who by then had become a suspect, to step into his office, which was also in the building.
"He just asked me if I knew anything about it and I said I did," Luttrell explained Thursday.
"He essentially just confessed," Cloward said. "He went to town with the cable cutters."
The two men hiked out the Snow River drainage to retrieve the traps from under the tree. "I would have never found them without his help," Cloward said.
Luttrell said that he did not know the man whose traps he dismantled and that he hadn't gone hiking with the intent of doing what he did. "I would like to meet with the trapper and apologize," he said. "What I did was wrong. It's not the best way to resolve the conflict between trappers and dog owners."
Cloward on Tuesday cited Luttrell for third-degree theft and criminal mischief, and he has been summoned to Seward District Court Feb. 15.
Cloward said he hopes the case will deter people from vandalizing traps.
"These people are entitled to do this," he said, wondering what would have happened had the trapper come along as his line was being sabotaged. "It could have been a pretty volatile situation," he said.
Daily News reporter Tataboline Brant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4321