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Assembly OK’s trapping resolution

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday unanimously approved a revised resolution that requests the Alaska Board of Game to make an emergency declaration to limit trapping within 150 feet of certain trails and “vehicular ways or areas” within the borough.

The Assembly took the action understanding that the deadline has passed to request Board of Game action at the board’s meeting that starts later this week in Petersburg, and that the resolution’s trapping request doesn’t likely fit the definition of a circumstance needed for the Board of Game would to consider an emergency request.

Still, with some Assembly members noting that unrestricted trapping along trails and other areas trafficked by people and pets poses a public safety issue, Assembly members approved the resolution as a means to make the concern known to the Board of Game and to make a start toward a solution.

“I believe that while we may not ... create a solution tonight, we are by (submitting) the resolution, we are beginning to create a solution that will occur,” said Assembly Member Alan Bailey. “We can begin sometime, and this is the time to begin.”

Local interest in a new prohibition on trapping along trails and roads follows the U.S. Forest Service’s action in November to rescind a federal emergency order that had limited trapping within 150 feet from trails and campgrounds on Revillagigedo Island. That order, which was intended to be temporary, had been in effect since 2014.

When initiating the emergency order, the Forest Service highlighted that trapping in Alaska is regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fish and Game manages wildlife through policy established by the Alaska Board of Game.

The Alaska Board of Game is a statewide entity, and meets regarding each region’s issues on a three-year cycle. Its meeting regarding wildlife management issues in Southeast Alaska starts late this week in Petersburg. The deadline to submit proposals for management changes in the region was in May.

On the agenda is a request by the community of Skagway for Skagway-specific trapping regulations similar to those sought by the Ketchikan resolution.

Assembly Member Judith McQuerry submitted the proposed resolution for Monday’s agenda in the hope of obtaining Assembly approval to request that the Board of Game consider the Ketchikan issue on an emergency basis.

On Monday evening, the Assembly chamber was full of people, many of whom were present because of their interest in the topic.

At one point, an individual speaking during public comments asked for a show of hands of people in the audience who supported the proposed resolution. About 30 people raised their hands, according to Borough Mayor David Landis.

Ten people spoke in support of the resolution, which also requested the Board of Game to issue rules requiring consistent signage on roads and public trails adjacent to traps.

All of the 10 spoke in favor of limiting traps near trails and roads — generally as a public safety issue. Some speakers highlighted incidents that they’d experienced with traps firsthand.

The first public speaker was Tina McPherson, who related a June 2018 incident in which her dog was caught in a snare around its neck near Ward Creek along the road to Connell Lake. McPherson described an approximately 40-minute ordeal that concluded when an Alaska State Trooper arrived and was able cut the snare cable apart and free the dog.

“I’m concerned for public safety, for our animals and for our kids and for people, not knowing those things are there and not knowing what to do — feeling helpless,” said McPherson, who’d noted that there were no signs indicating the presence of traps. “So I’d like to ask for your help in securing safety for our citizens and thier families. ... I think this is an issue that really needs to be solved now.”

Also during the public comments, Ross Dorendorf, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Ketchikan-area wildlife conservation biologist, made note of the Board of Game’s policy that states the board will deny a hearing on an issue outside of the regular cycle unless the issue deals with subsistence hunting (which would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis) — or if the request justifies a finding of an emergency. In this case, the policy’s definition of emergency doesn’t work in favor of the proposed resolution.

“An emergency is an unforeseen, unexpected event that either threatens a ... game resource, or an unforeseen, unexpected resource situation where a biologically allowable resource harvest would be precluded by delayed regulatory action, and such delay would be significantly burdensome to the petitioners because the resource would be unavailable in the future,” states the policy, which adds that emergencies would be “held to a minimum and rarely found to exist.”

The Assembly discussed whether it would be possible for the borough to bar traps in specific areas, a concept that raised issues of jurisdiction, enforcement and whether the borough had the appropriate powers, and problems of enforcement.

Assembly Member Rodney Dial proposed a two-part amendment to the resolution. The first part changed the word road to the phrase “vehicular way or area,” which is defined in Alaska statute as a “way, path, or area, other than a highway or private property, that is designated by official traffic control devices or customary usage and that is open to the public for purposes of pedestrian or vehicular travel, and which way or area may be restricted in use to pedestrians, bicycles, or other specific types of vehicles as determined by the Department of Public Safety...”

Dial said the proposed change is intended to provide a clearer definition of the type of areas that the rules would apply to.

The second part of the amendment was to change the term “public trail” to a list of specific trails compiled by the borough manager or manager designee, to which the rule would apply. This in part would prevent individuals opposed to trapping from establishing a trail to a trapping area with the intent of stopping trapping there, according to Dial.

The Assembly approved the amendment by a vote of 6-1, with Assembly Member A.J. Pierce voting against the amendment.

Prior to the vote, Pierce had said that the deadline had already passed, and wondered whether the Assembly should continue investigating the issue and how to approach the issue.  She said she completely empathized with the people who had spoken at the meeting.

“I want to make the best educated decision and I don’t feel like it’s tonight,” Pierce said. “And being that it’s not an emergency as to when we can file, could we consider a continuation for a couple of meetings?”

McQuerry said she shared Pierce’s concerns, but that the Board of Game wasn’t going to be meeting again for a long time.

“If we miss this window to let them know what our thoughts are, we might have well never have brought it up at all,” McQuerry said. “I understand this is a far-less-than-perfect solution. I agree. I’m very interested in pursuing whatever we can do down the road in the interim, but I don’t think we should miss this opportunity to express our thoughts to the Board of ... Game.”

As the discussion continued, Landis, who as the general manager of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association has had experience with emergency requests in the similar Alaska Board of Fisheries process, noted that the boards consider advisory committee perspectives heavily on issues, and that the Ketchikan Fish and Game Advisory Committee had been reformed recently. Going forward, the trapping topic would be something the Ketchikan Advisory Committee could work on toward the next regular board cycle.

The Assembly ultimately voted unanimously to approve the resolution as amended.

Also on Monday, the Assembly heard comments from Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority CEO Mark Abbott, who thanked the Assembly and community for support in the trust’s land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service in areas of Southeast Alaska.

   The overall exchange has been in the works for more than a decade and has taken acts of Congress and the Alaska Legislature to set in motion. It involves about 18,258 acres of trust lands and about 20,528 acres of Forest Service lands.

Late last week, the trust announced that the first phase of the conveyance is nearly complete.

The first phase involves some — but not all — of the AMHT tracts in the Ketchikan area that will be involved in the overall land exchange.

Phase 1 involves approximately 2,400 acres of Ketchikan-area AMHT land, including the 1,878-acre Signal Mountain parcel and the 707-acre Minerva Mountain parcels, in exchange for about 2,400 acres of Forest Service land near Naukati on Prince of Wales Island.

Phase 2 — which is anticipated to be complete in about one year — will involve about 900 acres on Deer Mountain  and the 3,178-acre Gravina Island Mid tract.

The Assembly also heard a presentation by U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Myrna Gardner regarding the upcoming 2020 census.

In other business Monday, the Assembly:

• Awarded a $50,000 contract to Gallagher Benefit Services to conduct a classification and compensation study for the borough. The contract is $50,000 less than the original cost estimate.

• Renewed a sublease to Airport Lounge & Snack Bar LLC for space in the Ketchikan International Airport terminal.

• Introduced in first reading an ordinance that would rezone three lots in the Shoup Street area from low density residential to medium density residential.