Alaskans Afield teaches about trapping beaver
Nomeites interested in trapping beaver had the opportunity to learn from Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Bill Dunker Saturday how it’s done properly. The class, which lasted for most of the day, covered general information on North America’s largest rodent, traps and trapping techniques, and how to deal with the animal once it has been trapped. And there was a break in the middle for fragrant beaver stew.
The class was organized by Alaskans Afield, a partnership between the ADF&G and the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. They teach a wide range of outdoor subjects to interested groups on the road system and the beaver class was their second in Nome.
“We’re trying to grow this program out in rural Alaska,” said Kari Rasmussen, also of ADF&G. “We have a lot of people who come to Nome and don’t have any experience hunting. We want everybody to feel like they have a chance to learn these skills.”
On the road system classes offered include introduction to chainsaws, loons and grebes, wood frogs, bear baiting, map and compass and archery. The Nome class was titled Beaver Trapping and Basic Fur Handling.
Biologist Bill Dunker, who taught the class, has been trapping beaver in the Nome area. He shared tips for scouting beaver habitat before winter falls, how to decide which trap to use and how to set it, and safety with some potentially dangerous traps.
Ten students signed up for the class and most had some experience with trapping beaver. Sandi Martinson grew up in the Alaska interior and trapped in her youth.
“I took it for a refresher course,” said Martinson. “I trapped 45 years ago and I wanted to refresh my memory of how to do it.” She said she got a lot out of the class and plans to start trapping again.
The beaver, which is North America’s largest rodent, can weigh up to 100 lbs. The older they get the bigger they are. Their traditional range has long been from as far south as central Mexico to the far Canadian and Alaskan north. In the past 100 years they’ve appeared in northern areas like Nome as the climate changes. They need trees and the “shrubification” of Northwest Alaska has opened up new territory for them.
According to Bill Dunker, Charlie Lean told of seeing the first beavers in the region in the early ‘80s.
The fur of the beaver is warm and luxurious and is used to make hats, mukluks and gloves. The meat is edible, as demonstrated by Dunker’s beaver stew. It is legal to feed beaver to dogs. Mushers in particular appreciate getting beaver meat from trappers.
Just as gold brought settlers to Nome the beaver was the reason why much of the Pacific Northwest, the mountain states and Canada was explored. The demand for beaver pelts was high, primarily because of the popularity of beaver fur top hats. The pre-Columbian beaver population was estimated at 90 million. Today the beaver numbers around 12 million in North America.
The animals are valuable to nature because they create wetlands by damming up rivers and streams. Many other creatures thrive in those wetlands. After humans, the beaver affects the physical landscape more than any other animal.
The beaver pelts are prime right now, in the depths of winter. They do not hibernate but are active all winter. Their lodges of sticks and mud protect them from the cold.
There is no season for beaver and no bag limit.
“I’ve trapped beavers before and now I know what to do with them,” said Scott Leigh, who attended the class. He trapped beaver in South Carolina. “This is a great class.”
Also enjoying the class was 5-year-old Nathaniel Piscoya, who attended with his father Bobby. Asked what his favorite animal is Nathaniel had a ready answer.
“Moose! Moose soup!”