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 with Rob Miskosky

Trapping in the 21st Century

“One is 40 square miles, the other is 50 square,” he said from on the other end of the line. “I want a thousand a square mile. If you buy them both, you can have them for eighty thousand.”

“What comes with them?” I asked, already knowing the price was well out of my league.

“Nothing. There’s no cabin or equipment, you just get the line.”

“What line?” I asked. “You obviously don’t trap them, how could there be a line?”

“Take it or leave it. I’ll get what I want,” he said with finality.

I knew he was right; he would get the ridiculous price he was asking. The two traplines were side by side in the foothills of the Rockies. The perfect place for the recreationist looking for his own private getaway.

“Not from me you won’t,” I said, hanging up the phone in frustration.

The use of traplines for purposes other than trapping has ruined the image of trappers in Alberta.
I’m not sure what caller number he was but the numbers I had called over the previous couple of years were adding up, just as were the miles on my truck driving around the province looking at potential traplines that were for sale. Those I had driven to were priced in my ballpark but there always seemed to be a reason why. Mostly they were occupied lands with very little Crown land associated with them. I’d done enough trapping for farmers as a resident trapper; I wanted a line I could manage for myself and the health of the animals on that land.

I’m now about four years removed from that conversation but things haven’t changed. In fact, they’re worse. Today, traplines in Alberta are sold to the highest bidder. It doesn’t matter if the buyer plans on trapping his purchase or not. It’s an industry that, shamefully, isn’t regulated to any degree and many traplines in Alberta are purely owned for recreational purposes.

At the time of this writing there is a trapline listed for sale in the Bargain Finder under the heading “Recreational Property” with the following particulars: Registered Trap Line in WMU510, log cabin, 25’ x 30’, 2 bdrms, on 1.5 acres of leased land, c/w 12’ x 18’ skinning shack & lighting plant. $55,000 obo.

Say what? Let’s think about this for a minute. First off, the cabin and skinning shack clearly violate the “Trapper Cabins, a policy for use” rules that state, “The trapper’s main cabin should not exceed 576 sq. feet (24’ x 24’ or equiv.)” and the out-building maximum of 12’ x 12’.

Secondly, the buildings are on leased land. Should the holder of the lease suddenly decide to purchase this land, which is quite possible, what happens then to the cabin? A cabin that would have taken considerably less than $55,000 to construct.

And what would it take for the buyer to get his money back from trapping? Considering the prices received for fur at auction houses these days, minus expenses for actually trapping, there is no chance of ever getting a return on your dollar. Simple economics prove this over and over again. The buyer of any trapline for dollars such as this will undoubtedly want to use his trapping cabin for other purposes. Otherwise, why would you spend that kind of money?

The author preparing a 330 conibear on a beaver lodge.

Now, I’m not against anybody getting value for their hard work or money spent from their own pocket, but what are you actually getting when you buy a trapline? You don’t own the land and in fact can’t interfere with the activities of any other users of that land. If somebody wanted to set up a treestand next to your cabin, you couldn’t stop him. You may own the cabin, but only in the slightest sense of the word. If a forest fire were to consume your line and the cabin on it, you are done. There is no more trapline, at least not in your lifetime. And last time I checked you can’t get fire insurance on a cabin in the middle of a forest, let alone insurance for theft or vandalism. So, why would anybody spend that kind of money for a trapline? It certainly wouldn’t be to trap it.

Most trappers trap because of the lifestyle they are able to achieve and because they have an unconditional love for the animals they trap and the wilderness that surrounds them. They report to Fish and Wildlife any things they see or find regarding the health of the animals and/or land they trap. They work with Fish and Wildlife and other organizations on projects or studies taking place on their traplines and they promote what they do because they know that the loss of the trapper is a huge loss to the areas they trap. They are the custodians of our forests.

Does the guy owning a trapline that uses it for recreational purpose do any of those things? Does he spend the time to teach those who do not appreciate or understand the role a trapper plays in the environment the importance of that role? Does he worry about the marten and the fisher or the otter and lynx? Or is he just concerned about that rock on the trail that one day might wreck the ski on his skidoo or the tire on his quad? Or whether or not he can get away with that big addition on his cabin so he has more room for the boys at hunting season?

Currently there are many discussions taking place regarding the use of traplines in Alberta. And according to Dave Ealey, Issues Manager, Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), these discussions, titled “Trapping in the 21st Century”, are ongoing and definitely on the front burner.

“We’ve reached a point where there are a lot of concerns by a lot of different people that traplines aren’t being used properly. And we recognize that concern,” said Ealey.

“It’s an important one for us and we are moving forward quickly.”

According to Dan Grahn, Section Head, Industrial and Commercial Land Use for SRD, the use of traplines have to be brought back into focus.

“As a group we’ve discussed many, many options as to what trapping should be in the 21st Century. I mean, this isn’t the 1900s any more,” said Grahn, who plays a big part in the use of trapline cabins and is a member of the Trapping in the 21st Century discussions.

“There are major issues with the use of traplines and cabins. We want to see traplines used for the hunting and trapping of fur only. What they were intended for.

“We have the report from the consultant that will go forward to the Deputy Minister,” Grahn stated quite emphatically.

Grahn also suggested he would be a little leery about purchasing a trapline with other intentions in mind right now. Because changes are in the works and most likely will be instituted.

Far too many own traplines for the wrong reasons. This, in the end, could be the loss of the true trapper in Alberta, and with that loss comes the loss of a time-honoured tradition that helped shape this country into what it is today. But before that loss takes place, there are many committed to correcting a problem that has gotten out of hand.

“We want trapping to be looked upon as a legitimate industry. We’re looking at what different jurisdictions do; we’re assessing that information, and looking at how it would work in this province. Recreational use of traplines doesn’t mesh with trapping in Alberta,” said Dave Ealey, who also made it perfectly clear that changes are coming and coming soon.

As the old saying goes, buyer beware! ■

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