Before he made news by getting mauled by a brown bear while hunting west of Glennallen last month, Lynn Keogh had just succeeded in establishing a wolverine trapping season in Chugach State Park.
Members of the Alaska Board of Game approved his proposal 5-2 during their March meeting in Anchorage.
Since then, however, the board's decision has been criticized in public forums for overharvesting wolverines and endangering pets.
Some of those critics aren't aware that trapping has a long history in Anchorage, says Keogh, the 42-year-old president of the Southcentral chapter of the Alaska Trappers Association. Born and raised in Anchorage, Keogh recalls a time when trappers had free rein in the Chugach foothills -- before the area became a 495,204-acre state park in 1970.
"I trapped it with my dad," he said recently. "Then when Chugach State Park was formed -- the only way it was formed -- is they kept 'consumptive use' (of park wildlife) in the management plan. Otherwise it never would have become a state park."
He doesn't think that wolverines in the park are at risk of being overharvested, as state biologists contend. In fact, he thinks the wolverine harvest might even decline in the more extensive state game management unit 14C (a 1,900-square-mile area that encompasses Anchorage, Chugach State Park and the remote backcountry to the east) -- since his measure shortened the wolverine season outside the park by half.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Why do you say some people don't understand all the facts of the issue?
A. When we put the proposal forward, it wasn't opening up any new areas in Chugach State Park to trapping. It was simply adding a species to the area that was already open to trapping. People have mentioned that this park belongs to everybody, and I agree 100 percent with that. It does. Consumptive users also.
Q. Some people wonder whether -- by opening it up to wolverine trapping -- that might bring in more trappers.
A. No. There are very few people who are actually out targeting wolverines. Most wolverines that get harvested are taken in traps intended for other species. (It's not profitable to concentrate on wolverines.) Just because you see a wolverine track here one day doesn't mean he's coming back to that same spot again. They're just such great wanderers.
Q. The (quickly lethal, body-gripping) Conibear 330 trap is pretty much the standard for wolverine trapping, isn't it?
A. The Conibear only came into play in the last 10 years. Prior to that, it was foot traps. Basically you would use the same foot trap for a wolverine as you would for a lynx.
Q. In terms of the lynx trapping going on in the park, do you think anyone's been using Conibears?
A. I don't want to say "no," but at the same time, you ask three different trappers how to catch something, and they'll give you three different answers. But it wouldn't surprise me. The Conibear is a very humane way to harvest animals.
Q. Area biologist Rick Sinnott told the board that a 1995 aerial survey found very few wolverines in Game management unit 14C. That's why he opposed it.
A. With all due respect, I just differ with his view. He's basing it off 12-year-old data. I have questions about how that data was gathered. If you look at the topography of the area they went over -- a lot of it is heavy canopy (covered by brush and trees). So the only thing they could possibly do is under-count them, not over-count them. But even with this proposal happening, there is still a majority of Chugach State Park that's a refuge, that's not trap-able.
Q. In the trapping that's occurred in the park, has there been much by-catch of wolverines where they were caught accidentally?
A. Trapping by its very nature -- hey, you make a set, you're targeting a certain species, but of course there is no guarantee that another species might not set its foot in that same trap or snare. Was there an incidental taking of wolverines (in the park)? It wouldn't surprise me. What I was trying to do as much as anything (by opening Chugach to wolverine trapping) was a house-cleaning deal where -- instead of getting incorrect data if there are wolverines being harvested and they're being reported coming from somewhere else, let's at least find out what's going on.
Q. How are you doing after your experience with the bear?
A. Pretty good, considering being chewed on. My knee, it's going to take a little while to heal up. The bite wounds on my leg and shoulder -- they seem to be doing pretty good. The back of my head seems to be healing pretty good too. It could have been way worse. I didn't get any claw marks. Bite marks is all I ended with, so that was real fortunate.
Daily News reporter George Bryson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.