Trapping Part of Peninsula Ecosystem

Joseph Robertia / Kenai Peninsula Clarion / November 7, 2003

Trapping has been important to Alaskans since long before the first white explorers began to arrive, and continues to be culturally, environmentally and economically important to the people of Alaska in the present day.

To many, trapping is a part of the people of this state's history and heritage, but despite roots that are hundreds of years old, the future of trapping is not secure.

Trapping and the fur industry have been under fire from animal rights groups for some time. As a result, much of the public holds negative views of trapping that are not only contrary to scientific evidence, but also to nature's reality.

So, in order to help dispel misconceptions of the general public through better education on the positive aspects of trapping, and to simultaneously ensure that trappers are kept up to date on several key issues, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game held their annual trapper orientation program last week at the Kenai River Center.

Liz Jozwiak, a biologist at the refuge, explained how ecosystems work and how trapping fits into the overall picture. She stated that wildlife management seeks to maintain optimum numbers for a diversity of wildlife species on a continuing basis.

"In regard to species diversity on the refuge, we have 177 birds, 30 mammals, 15 fish and one amphibian," said Jozwiak.

However, she explained that ecosystems have a "carrying capacity," which is the maximum population that a given area will support without undergoing deterioration.

Nature by design often produces excess populations in some species annually, and when the carrying capacity is exceeded, it creates a "surplus" of animals.

These excess (surplus) animals if not removed -- such as through trapping and hunting -- can cause damage to the delicate balance of the ecosystem by causing habitat destruction and degradation.

"These surplus animals will also often die from any number of reasons including: starvation from over competition, disease, road kill and predation," said Jozwiak.

"In addition to posing a threat to themselves, these surplus animals also often become what many residents refer to as 'nuisance wildlife,' because, among other things, they prey on domestic animals and house pets," said Larry Lewis, an Fish and Game wildlife technician,

While trapping opponents would argue that nature should be allowed to function without human intervention so that these issues of surplus animals will resolve themselves, many wildlife biologists would argue that nature -- including here on the Kenai Peninsula -- has been so altered and disturbed by humans that interaction of predator and prey animals within their ecosystems can no longer function in a truly "balanced" manner.

"It's about conservation, not just preservation," said Jim Neely, a federal park ranger. Neely, a trapper himself, said he believes trapping can play a useful role in wildlife management.

Lewis also enjoys trapping and said trapping is a subject that 's "very near and dear to my heart."

He said it pains him to see how often trapping is negatively viewed by the general public, because he knows trapping is not pursued frivolously, but rather with respect for wildlife and the interdependence of humans and animals.

"Trappers are proud of how they pass along their wilderness skills from one generation to the next," he said. "It makes me feel good to see all the youngsters here today wanting to learn, and it's up to us to teach them how to do things the right way."

As such, he stressed trapping ethics including selective trapping, humane trapping and conflict resolution.

"Remember that legal doesn't mean necessarily mean ethical," he told the group and advised trappers to stay away from areas frequented by people and their pets even if trapping is permitted there.

He also talked about trapping etiquette and not trapping on another person's area. To reduce the possibility of this occurring, Lewis said there is a large map of the Kenai Peninsula at the Fish and Game office in Soldotna, and he urged trappers to come in an circle the areas they use frequently, so that no overlapping occurs.

However, he joked that "Anyone who circles the whole map won't be allowed to trap this year."

More than a dozen species are currently trapped here on the Kenai Peninsula. Anyone interested in trapping should obtain a copy of the 2003-2004 Alaska Trapping Regulations book and contact the refuge for a full list of rules and regulations.



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