23rd Legislature(2003-2004)

Committee Minutes


SENATE TRANSPORTATION
Apr 27, 2004
SB 391-DALTON HIGHWAY TRAPLINE ACCESS

The committee took up SB 391.

SENATOR RALPH SEEKINS, sponsor of SB 391, explained this bill
will allow trappers to use snow machines within the five mile
corridor of the Dalton Highway to access traplines. Currently,
Alaska statutes ban, with limited exceptions, use of off-road
vehicles within five miles of the highway, starting at mile 57,
at the Yukon River Crossing, and extending 357 miles north to
the Arctic Coast. The state has not actively enforced this
statutory ban, nevertheless, this has not stopped the federal
government from co-opting the state law, and let BLM close long-
existing traplines and threatening to tear down, or has torn
down cabins, unless trappers resort to non-motorized access.
This bill seeks to remedy that situation by allowing the limited
use of snow machines within the corridor for the express purpose
of establishing, maintaining, and servicing a trapline located
outside the corridor. To the extent that trapping is a seasonal
activity, each trapline needs to be re-established annually. He
said his intent was to provide a measure of relief to trappers
who have already been operating in the area. Some of these
traplines are as much as 275 miles long and the only feasible
access is by snow machine in the wintertime.

SENATOR SEEKINS pointed out this was an interim step,
specifically designed with the intent of allowing people with
already established traplines to be able to continue to trap in
the face of a federal threat to close them down. He said, "I
think that's fair and just. There's no harm that's been shown
by people operating in the past. There's no good reason for the
federal government to shut them down ... it's state law that the
federal government is quoting when they say they're going to
shut these folks down. Even though Alaska's DPS and none of our
other departments are doing anything to enforce this statute
against these people at this time."

SENATOR LINCOLN said she didn't believe and didn't think the
sponsor intended to say there were cabins that were burnt down
or destroyed because she understands that no cabins have been
destroyed or moved. Regarding the individual who purported to
have 225 miles of trapline - the local people in the area stated
this individual doesn't have 225 miles of trapline. He has gone
off the road in two areas, but is a pilot car driver, and does
not drive (she referred to a letter) the 225 miles by snow
machine.

CO-CHAIR COWDERY asked if anybody has a 225-mile trapline.

SENATOR LINCOLN said the individual being referred to that was
reported to have a 225-mile trapline, but in fact, trappers have
said this was not the case. She said she has contacted Alyeska.
There is concern for pipeline safety; that's why the five mile
corridor existed. She said she has not heard from Alyeska
regarding the implications, should this bill go through. She
said she was out of the loop and perhaps the sponsor could
explain about the bill the sponsor is working on with Senator
Olson. She questioned why, instead of amending that
legislation, there is this new bill.

SENATOR SEEKINS said he has no information to refute the fact
that BLM has told people who are trappers that they have to
remove the cabins they are using that are outside of that five-
mile corridor. He said, "I've seen an official letter to a
trapper that says you cannot access, if this decision comes
down, and you will be forced to remove the cabins that are out
there." If those are accessed with something other than a snow
machine, it would not fit into the restriction being proposed.
He explained he was still working with Senator Olson on another
bill, and that this bill eliminates any confusion about his
intent; it has been introduced for this specific purpose. If it
was morphed or lengthened to any extent, he said he would
withdraw it. "I want to make clear to everyone that this is a
specific purpose for people who have been legally operating
their traplines but illegally accessing it according to state
law to be able to do so." Senator Seekins said he remains
working with Senator Olson to ensure that if an agreement can be
reached addressing how to protect these people, that will be
done, and then this bill will die.

SENATOR WAGONER said he was trying to relate snow machines going
legally from one side to the other side, and from the road just
to one side. He asked if Senator Seekins and Senator Olson
worked out another bill, that would disappear.

SENATOR SEEKINS said it would disappear.

SENATOR WAGONER asked if this would then be taken care of in the
other bill.

SENATOR SEEKINS said similar language was being worked on that
would do exactly this, down the line. Senator Olson has a
different constituency than he does, and they need to feel
comfortable. That bill was expanded in the past, and he said
he's agreed to restrict it down. This bill is meant to give
comfort to other people.

SENATOR OLSON asked if there was a sunset date in this bill.

SENATOR SEEKINS said he didn't know. He said he didn't think
there was a sunset on the other one. He said people who are
doing this now would be allowed to continue, just like the
people currently mining have the right to access, and the oil
and gas industry has the right to go out and explore or
maintain. There is access available, and the intent is to
perpetuate legal usage. This is intended to protect only those
people who are already engaged, not to allow any increase in
trappers or to encourage a proliferation of trappers. In the
next session, the intention is to address other access
provisions after there is time to study it.

SENATOR OLSON asked how many trappers were involved with this.

SENATOR SEEKINS said it was his understanding that there are
less than 10.

SENATOR OLSON asked when the trapping season takes place, and
how many months out of the year was this expected to be an
issue.

SENATOR SEEKINS responded, only when there was sufficient snow
cover to get out there. He thinks the trapping season is during
the coldest few months of the year; most of the traps are shut
down now.

SENATOR OLSON asked if people were trapping by using four-
wheelers.

SENATOR SEEKINS replied no, not to his knowledge. He added that
this was strictly for snow machines.

SENATOR LINCOLN read [page 1, line 13] as follows: "the use of
a snow machine to travel across the highway corridor from land
outside the corridor to access land outside the other side of
the corridor or the use of a snow machine to travel from within,
or into, the corridor for the purpose of establishing,
maintaining, or servicing a trapline located outside of the
corridor." She said a trap license is $15, and this doesn't
address existing traplines, but says it can be used to service a
trapline. So, with a $15 license, one could throw a couple of
traps on a snow machine and go trapping; it doesn't prohibit the
use of that corridor to the 10 people, but opens it to anybody
who throws traps on their snow machine. She reminded the
sponsor that while the concerns are in one part of the corridor,
that corridor affects a number of villages as well.

SENATOR SEEKINS said a resident trapping license is $15,
although he buys his as part of a regular hunting, fishing, and
trapping license. He said the safety issue was bogus, as people
drive up and down that road all day long; a terrorist is not
going to drive with a snow machine on the back of the truck,
take the snow machine off, and then drive 15 yards off the road
to get to the pipeline to destroy it. People from outside the
corridor, as Senator Wagoner indicated, can drive from one side
to the other with no problem at all and evidently this is not a
safety risk. He repeated, for the record, that the intent is to
protect people who already have traplines there. He emphasized
that until this issue is settled, we don't want the federal
government to enforce our law against our residents.

SENATOR THERRIAULT asked how this was tied to an established
trapline.

SENATOR SEEKINS said a trapline could be established now, but it
has to be re-established in the next trapping season, so the
word "established" is a little confusing. In one sense,
established trappers have been trapping there for a period of
time, but that trapline expires and needs to be re-established
the next year.

MR. MATT ROBUS, Director of Wildlife Conservation, Alaska
Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said he was available to
answer questions.

SENATOR THERRIAULT asked how someone establishes a trapline.

MR. ROBUS responded establishment of a trapline is the physical
act of cutting the trail, but there is no legal precedence as
there is in other jurisdictions.

CO-CHAIR COWDERY said he homesteaded in 1952 and asked if there
were any grandfather rights, wondering if one could start at the
same location today and do the same thing.

MR. ROBUS said this was correct and if another trapper had
established and traditionally run a trapline since then, it
would basically involve negotiating with the trapper and
hopefully coming to a friendly agreement. There are no rights
to be grandfathered in, nor does the other trapper have
exclusionary rights.

SENATOR LINCOLN referred to the individual with the 225-mile
trapline; entrapping on an established line is a taboo, as is
leaving no wood at a remote cabin. The individual went to BLM
and BLM told him to find his own area. He went up to another
area. So there is sort of a gentlemen's agreement. She
expressed concern that with this legislation, someone could just
throw a trap on their snow machine, with a permit, and go in
there, even if this is not the sponsor's intent.

MR. ROBUS said yes, the way the bill is written, there is
opportunity for an additional trapper to go in there. His
testimony on the First Haul Road bill, SB 298, was to the extent
there is a rise in the number of people going through the
corridor on snow machines as a result of the SB 391, ADF&G and
the Board of Game have management tools to ensure the impacts to
the populations of animals are controlled. ADF&G has the
ability to deal with management issues, emergency orders, and
board regulations for different bag limits and seasons and so
forth.

SENATOR LINCOLN asked, if somebody said, "I'm going trapping,"
how this would be managed, as that person couldn't be cited for
doing anything wrong.

MR. ROBUS said ADF&G wasn't the enforcement agency. He was
referring to management regarding an increase of hunting
pressure on caribou or moose due to more people going through
the corridor. ADF&G could adjust bag limits, seasons, or issue
emergency closures to protect the resource. Regarding
enforcement, Senator Lincoln was correct in that if somebody was
going to run a trapline, and they have a snow machine, you'd
basically have to take them at their word or investigate.

SENATOR OLSON asked for clarification of Mr. Robus's position.

MR. ROBUS said he was involved with ADF&G wildlife management;
enforcement is with the state troopers.

SENATOR OLSON asked what types of animals are being trapped.

MR. ROBUS said the Haul Road crosses many different habitats and
includes wolves, marten, wolverine, fox, lynx, and a wide
variety of fur-bearing animals.

SENATOR OLSON asked if the department has a position on the
bill.

MR. ROBUS said he didn't think so.

SENATOR WAGONER asked if it was correct that anybody wishing to
buy a license can trap in any given area and that basically the
department does not regulate where they trap or how many furs
are produced per year.

MR. ROBUS responded this was basically correct, but wanted to
put some sideboards on this. He said if it got to a point where
indications were such that populations were suffering from
pressure, ADF&G would shorten seasons or even close those areas.
The Board of Game has a few trapping closures where it's not
appropriate for trappers to go. Other than that, trapping is
basically self-regulating. Trappers have to sort out amongst
themselves where they're going to operate in order to make it
worthwhile to go trapping from year to year.

SENATOR OLSON asked if besides this bill, there is another way
to keep these trapping cabins from being torn or burned down to
ensure that these sanctuaries of safety would be available, in
addition to being used by the people who put them up and who
have a financial investment in them.

MR. ROBUS said he wasn't equipped to answer that since state law
doesn't have a penalty clause and it has never been enforced.
The state law is not the proximate problem and he doesn't know
much about BLM regulations or recent actions.

SENATOR OLSON said state law may not be in question, but the
sponsor is stating that the federal [government] is using state
law as a justification.

MR. ROBUS confirmed he's heard the same statement in several
hearings and gathers that state statute is allowing BLM to make
attempts at enforcement.

SENATOR LINCOLN referred to a gentleman in her district who
noted there are two real established trappers in this large
area, saying, "I was not opposed to access permits to areas that
do not conflict with established traplines for these two real
trappers." She said there is expressed concern with people
other than these trappers. She asked why the five-mile corridor
was established.

MR. ROBUS said it was to protect the pipeline itself and there
may have been intent to protect wildlife populations along the
Haul Road.

[Co-Chair Cowdery left the room and the gavel was turned over to
Co-Chair Wagoner.]

SENATOR LINCOLN asked Senator Seekins if he intended to amend
this, acknowledging that his intent was for SB 391 to apply to
those who were already established trappers.

SENATOR SEEKINS responded, "Go ahead and propose the amendment."

SENATOR LINCOLN suggested conceptually, "That a trapper must
have received a BLM permit for snowmobile access in the past 24
months to access their - or - this trapline."

4:00 p.m.

SENATOR SEEKINS said he'd just as soon leave BLM out. If
someone can show they've trapped there, they should have access;
to the best of his knowledge, based on talking with people from
the Trappers' Association, this amounts to less than 10 people.
He said only the BLM is enforcing the restriction and he wanted
to protect people actually trapping there now because they're
not causing any huge disruption. Conceptually, he said, "Those
people who can show that they have trapped there, you know in
the last 24 months, something like that, that adequately meets
my intent. But we've had troubles struggling with this, with
the drafters, as well, to make sure that we're taking care of
those folks who have been doing this from this federal threat,
without opening it up to somebody who says, 'I've got two traps
in the back of my snow machine and I'm going out there.' That's
not our intent, and I think you know that."

CO-CHAIR WAGONER asked if this addresses people who have
currently either constructed or taken over and maintained a
cabin.

SENATOR SEEKINS said probably some people. He said he's not
sure of the permitting process but BLM said they would cite
people using the cabins, under state law. If we can show these
people have trapped there in the past 24 months and have
established traplines, this might allow them the opportunity to
continue without federal interference.

SENATOR LINCOLN asked if conceptual language could be that a
trapper must have received a permit for snowmobile access in the
past 24 months to access the trapline.

SENATOR SEEKINS suggested that a trapper who has taken fur needs
to tell the state where he's trapped or took the animal.

MR. ROBUS said this was correct.

SENATOR SEEKINS said it would solve his problem if it could be
shown through ADF&G trapping forms or some documentation that
people have been trapping there, because then this law would
exempt them from that restriction.

SENATOR LINCOLN said this was her concern as well. She asked
Mr. Robus about ensuring that nobody would get around this
conceptual language.

SENATOR SEEKINS said, "That's up to us to do that, not Mr.
Robus."

SENATOR LINCOLN said, "Mr. Robus said that this would work, that
there's a way that they can show that they have indeed trapped
in the area. And if you're saying that there is a way to do
that, then I want assurance that there is no way that they can
get around this."

MR. ROBUS said that on state sealing forms, the trapper has to
report the locality where that fur was taken. There is a little
fuzziness because people don't want to reveal this.

TAPE 04-20, SIDE B

MR. ROBUS continued that those records are stored and are
available to enforcement in the future.

SENATOR LINCOLN moved the conceptual amendment.

SENATOR SEEKINS said he believes he and Senator Lincoln were now
on the same page. If it can be shown through the state forms
that someone actually trapped within that vicinity and the Haul
Road was used as access, then they're exempt from this
restriction; "if that's where we're going, I have no problem
with that, it's a friendly amendment."

CO-CHAIR WAGONER asked if there was any objection to the
amendment and acknowledged that there was no objection.
[Amendment 1 was treated as adopted.]

SENATOR LINCOLN referred to Senator Seekins's comment that SB
391 just be incorporated into the other piece of legislation
that he and Senator Olson were working on, and asked if SB 391
should have a sunset clause.

SENATOR SEEKINS said for the record that if he and Senator Olson
work out a committee substitute (CS) that fits this conceptual
language, he would just not pursue SB 391 any longer.

SENATOR LINCOLN said SB 391 might move along and the other bill
might not.

SENATOR SEEKINS said the differences could be worked out in the
Senate Finance committee.

The committee took a brief at-ease.

CO-CHAIR COWDERY moved to report SB 391 as amended to the next
committee of referral.

SENATOR OLSON objected.

A roll call vote was taken. Senator Therriault, Co-Chair
Cowdery, and Co-Chair Wagoner voted in favor of the motion;
Senators Lincoln and Olson voted against it. Therefore CSSB 391
(TRA) moved from the Senate Transportation Standing Committee by
a vote of 3 to 2.

There being no further business to come before the committee, he
adjourned the meeting at 4:10 p.m.