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Alaska Board of Game will consider a change to beaver trapping rules

A beaver-gnawed tree in Petersburg Creek in February 2022.
Joe Viechnicki
A beaver-gnawed tree in Petersburg Creek in February 2022.

During its statewide meeting (March 4-12), the Alaska Board of Game will consider a proposal to remove requirements that beaver traps and snares be submerged in water.

Regulations currently require trappers in Unit 16 – an area west of the Susitna River and west of Cook Inlet – to place beaver traps and snares submerged in water during the first 45 days of the season. But that could change because of a proposal before the Board of Game – and the change could affect statewide trapping.

Proposal 100 was introduced in January during a Central regional meeting of the Board of Game. It seeks to remove a regulation to require beaver traps be submerged in water.

Chris Brockman is a wildlife biologist for Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“In the springtime, especially water levels fluctuate drastically on the river systems,” Brockman said. “So a trap that's set legally and submerged can very quickly and also very easily become illegal because the water level drops. And so that submerge trap set one night by the next morning may be out of the water and no longer legal.”

Proposal 100 was specific to Unit 16.

“That habitat includes a lot of mountains. But it has a really large river system and a good portion of Unit 16 is low elevation, fairly flat, wet, swampy ground,” Brockman said. “So it is really ideal habitat for beaver and the beaver population, and Unit 16 is what I would say is thriving.”

The Board has amended the proposal to look at statewide application.

“It's an issue that's common across the state for anywhere that that regulation occurs in the springtime and someone would be trapping a river system where the water fluctuates,” Brockman said. “So the board decided to address it on a statewide issue. And that way, hopefully regulations can remain consistent.”

The proposal includes snares, foot traps and body-grip traps – sometimes called Conibear, which is a specific brand.

“But it's not going to result in them trapping in any kind of a different fashion. So “Honestly, This change will have zero impact on the beaver population in my assessment.”

Brockman says that regulation of permits for controlling beaver as a nuisance species – is outside of the trapping guidelines – and the proposed changes would not affect that permitting process.

According to the 2019 Alaska Trapper Report which covered July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, 91 people responded to a survey and said that they trapped in Region 4 of Central and Southwest Alaska, an area that includes Unit 16.

Fifty-eight beavers were reported harvested in Unit 16A, the northern portion of the unit – none in 16B and 16Z.

Only Unit 18Z in western Yukon Delta, recorded more harvest – 92 beavers. Unit 20A in the Lower Tanana region of the Interior reported 51 harvested.

The 2019 harvest totals based on fur sealing records indicate that while beaver harvests in Region Four (IV) were up (391) from the year before (360) -- it still fell below the yearly totals from 2014 to 2016 – which reflects statewide trends.

Very likely, it means fewer people trap.

“Fur prices in general have declined drastically. There's a few exceptions to that, and the number of people in Alaska who are truly making a living on trapping has declined drastically,” Brockman said. “It's still a very popular activity. It's not just a hobby, people do make some money trapping for some species, and there are some people who still make a living trapping. It's just much more difficult to do given our current fur value and the cost of everything else.”

The price of beaver pelts have increased only slightly in the past few years. According to the 2019 survey, the price in 2019 for a beaver pelt was estimated about $13.52 – compared with coyote, $75.52; red fox, $19.90; wolf, $120.47; and wolverine, 195.66.

Originally from the Midwest, Tripp Crouse (Ojibwe, a descendent of Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, pronouns: they/them) has 15-plus years in print, web and radio journalism. Tripp first moved to Alaska in 2016 to work with KTOO Public Media in Juneau. And later moved to Anchorage in 2018 to work with KNBA and Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. Tripp currently works for Spruce Root in Juneau, Alaska. Tripp also served as chair of the Station Advisory Committee for Native Public Media.