Forest Service officer shares tips for traps

Nov 24, 2021

Some users have put up signs, like this one near Snug Harbor Road in Cooper Landing, in an effort to reduce conflict between user groups.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Ski season in Cooper Landing is approaching. At the same time, trapping on Forest Service lands is fair game. 

And with few formal restrictions on trapping, it’s largely up to trappers and recreationists to keep each other safe.

Andy Morse is a law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service, based in Cordova. He said safety is a two-way street.

“I work with a whole variety of folks that are out in the forest recreating," he said. "Just be aware that in many areas, there’s not a regulation, there’s not a setback.”

Most of the trapping activity on the central Kenai Peninsula happens by Cooper Landing.

Last month, a federal board voted down a proposal from Cooper Landing residents to place setbacks along well-used campgrounds and parking lots. Residents who proposed the regulations said they were worried about dogs getting hurt or killed by traps, as more skiers and winter hikers use the area. It’s happened a number of times in the last several years.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the only land manager with specific restrictions on trapping in the area, including setbacks along trails and a ban along Skilak Lake Road.

Despite the lack of formal setbacks on Forest Service land, Morse said trappers can set their own. Going a few hundred yards away from trafficked trails, he said, can make a big difference.

“The trapper has to realize, they really need to set themselves up for success and get away from maintained hiking trails, away from campgrounds, away from areas where people are just generally drawn to go to who are ignorant of trapping, or unfamiliar with it," Morse said.

He said trappers should be familiar with the trapping regulations set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

But that familiarity with the rules should go both ways, he said, and other recreationists should be aware of their surroundings. That includes knowing how to spot traps and staying away from them.

"If you see little wooden boxes on the tree, maybe about four feet up in the air, typically with a small square trap, that’s a conibear trap," More said. "Often trapping for marten. Pretty valuable and pretty sought out in the trapping community.”

There are no leash laws on recreational trails, either. To keep wandering pets away from danger, owners can keep dogs leashed or visible and under voice control. Morse recommends dog owners travel with commercially sold trap setters, which can open conibear traps.

“And with those tools, I think they can go into the backcountry without fear," he said.

Morse recommends dog owners travel with trap setters that can open conibear traps.
Credit Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media

Aside from conibear traps, there are restraining traps that catch animals’ legs. Snare wires, which are thin and harder to see, constrict around an animal’s neck.

Morse is a recreational trapper himself. He’ll be trapping this winter and said he’s excited about the early snow and ice that lend to good beaver trapping in his neck of the woods. 

"A couple of friends and I are definitely getting into beaver trapping pretty heavy under the ice," he said. "That’s a new and exciting challenge.”

You can read Fish and Game’s regulations here.