A resolution to mitigate conflict between dog owners and trappers could pass easily during tonight’s Regular Borough Assembly meeting. The item is on the consent agenda and unless an assembly member disagrees, two new areas will be established for dog training within the borough. It’s a resolution that took two years’ worth of discussion between the Alaska Trapper’s Association and the Borough Trails Advisory Commission.
The resolution designates the Isberg Recreation area in northwest Fairbanks as well as an area directly south of Salcha Elementary School as places where people can free run their dogs. Resolution sponsor and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says the Borough is not creating two new dogs parks, however. Instead, he says the areas will be set up specifically for canine training. “Things like hunting dogs and search and rescue dogs,” he explains, “that need to free run to perform their duties and obviously need to be trained properly to perform their duties. To do that in an area safely, you wanna be confidents there aren’t a lot of traps where the dogs are running loose.” Kassel serves as a liason between the Assembly and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission. He says the resolution will not put an end to trapping within the Borough. “Trapping and the regulation of trapping is a Fish and Game regulation,” he says, “It’s not a borough function. We’re not trying to regulate trapping. The intention here is to not have any sport of significant or adverse effect on any sort of activity that’s already going on, and to use this as a tool to educate the public a little bit more.”
The resolution doesn’t make mention of sled dogs, but Kassel says that’s because the designated training areas aren’t large enough for those activities like mushing and skijoring. “Typically, a dog team would train longer miles and they may pass through these areas,” Kassel says, “The hundred mile loop trail goes through the Iceberg Recreation Area, so somebody may go through the area while they are training dogs, but they would be outside of these areas for more time than they would be within these areas. We still share some concerns obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably going to be people who just go and let dogs run loose.”
The resolution also doesn’t mention other popular trail systems in the borough, where both recreation and trapping take place. Melissa Head is a long time Borough resident. She lost her dog to a trap near the Goldstream Valley last winter. She supports the resolution, but she says it doesn’t go far enough.
“It represents a lot of work that has been done between the ATA and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission,” says Head, “but it’s not just enough to say that certain areas are off limits. Dog owners can encounter traps almost anywhere in the borough, often in trails, on the edge of trails, where even leashed dogs can be harmed.”
Pete Buist is a lifelong trapper and a former [president of the Alaska Trapper’s Association. He says most conflicts between dog owners and trappers are not the fault of trappers. “It will be an ongoing problem until dog owners start obeying the law,” says Buist. Borough code does prohibit running dogs off leash, but there is a section in the code that allows for off-leash training. Buist says he understands the resolution is the best option for compromise between all concerned parties. “We are willing to give up some ground where it would otherwise be legal for trapping, because we are trappers who are your friends and neighbors and the Alaska Trapper’s Association is the organized version of that,” Buist says. “We still share some concern obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably gonna people there who just let their dogs run loose.”
ATA members have agreed to voluntarily curtail trapping in the designated dog training areas. Karl Kassel says enforcement will fall under the responsibility of the Borough Administration.