Matanuska River

History of the Alaska Trappers Association
A short history of the Alaska Trappers Association

From Alaska Trapper, May 1990, pages 6-28

Sixteen years ago a group of Interior Alaska trappers gathered together to form the Interior Alaska Trappers Association. It was in 1972 when Norm Phillips Sr., Terry Johnson conceived the idea of banding trappers of Interior Alaska together as a political and educational organization. In the fall of 1973 they called a meeting to measure other trappers' interest in the idea.

The large turnout at that first organizational meeting surprised everyone, including the organizers themselves. !t was a time of uncertainty about the future of trapping in the country. Trappers were afraid that they would lose their traditional right to trap as the antis pressed their campaign against trapping with fanatical vigor. They realized that without a unified voice they would be powerless against this distant foe in the world of adversarial politics. Inspired by that realization, trappers stepped out of their roles as reclusive folks; they came out of the woods and began to forge the club whose history speaks for itself.

The Interior Alaska Trappers Association, which was subsequently named The Alaska Trappers Association, struggled in the formative years that followed. Nothing was simple, nothing came easy. Trappers are not only characters, they are individuals too... with diverse and often uncompromising views of the world. Trappers are not joiners by nature. They cannot be herded like the antis herd their followers. Trappers will not say 'maybe' when they mean 'no.' Surprisingly, the ATA managed to navigate the minefield of trapper individualism with few losses. But there were some losses... some hard feelings... and even some hostility. Yet the dream prevailed. The astute ATA board maneuvered the Association into a respected position that was the envy of many other groups within a few short years.

We can be justifiably proud of what the ATA has accomplished for trapping and trappers in Alaska in these past sixteen years. We now have a tradition to uphold.

How did it all begin, and who did what?

Front: Norm Phillips, Don Young. Back row: Ken Fanning, Ken Dunshie, Candy Monzingo, Pete Buist, Elaine Long, Ron Long, LeRoy Shank, and Gary Thompson. Click to enlarge.

Front: Norm Phillips, Don Young. Back row: Ken Fanning, Ken Dunshie, Candy Monzingo, Pete Buist, Elaine Long, Ron Long, LeRoy Shank, and Gary Thompson. Click to enlarge.

It was fall 1973 when the first group of interested trappers got together at the Fish and Game Department for an organizational meeting. The club was formalized shortly after that with and the first board was elected. Fabian Carey was elected President, with Ken Fanning, Terry Johnson and Norm Phillips Sr. as officers. The 1974 meeting began in the Tanana Valley Sportsmens Association (TVSA) log cabin on Airport Way.

Fabian was the trapper's trapper. Photographs of Fabian with the marten he took from his trapline in Minchumina are legendary. He was the obvious choice for leading the new club. Fabian passed away in the fall of 1975 at 58 years of age, but the Association whose philosophy and tradition he helped to create goes on and on. In commemoration of this man the Association created the Fabian Carey Trapper of the Year Award which is presented annually at the Trapper's Fling to the person who most exemplifies the ideals of the Association.

But what kind of a man was he? Fabian used to say. "I don't believe a man should sell himself to any organization... it tends to shrivel your soul. If I can't do what I want most... live in the woods... I will work at whatever gives me the most freedom." Fabian moved to Alaska from Minnesota as a teenager to fulfill his dream of being a trapper and woodsman. He accepted the necessity of killing as a reality of life, but he also could show extraordinary tenderness and gentleness toward animals and people.

"The conservationists are critical of trappers as cruel and inhumane," he would say, "but trappers were the original conservationists, going into an area and utilizing the wildlife without disturbing the land or the balance of nature."

Terry Johnson, Fabian Carey, Ken Fanning and Norm Phillips in the beginning. Photo by Dave Miller. Click to enlarge.

Terry Johnson, Fabian Carey, Ken Fanning and Norm Phillips in the beginning. Photo by Dave Miller. Click to enlarge.

He enjoyed politics and history, but he had a passion for music and art, and was an enthusiastic collector of recordings, prints and oil paintings. He loved opera, and was easily moved to tears during a performance (notes on Fabian are taken from his obituary).

Among the founders and four original board members was Terry Johnson. Born in 1939, Terry passed away in 1988. He helped the Association throughout the first fifteen years of its growth. Peter Buist, Richard Henderson and Dean Wilson, close friends of Terry's wrote their thoughts about him in the November 1988 Alaska Trapper.

Terry was a lifelong Alaskan. Though I only knew him for 15 years. I'd like to tell ATA members about a few of the highlights of those years. One occurred in fall time, 1987. It was unusual in that I got to do something for Terry. He hadn't been able to hunt that fall: I took him a quarter of moose. Usually, if there was helping to be done, it was Terry who did the helping.

Terry was a woodsman in the true sense of the word. He was comfortable when you were there with him. His skills in the woods were developed over years of outdoor living and hard work. The Alaska that Terry was raised in was not one of mechanization nor one of selfish fighting over who would get the fish, the fur or the game.

Terry was one of the founders of the ATA. He had trapped in many areas of Alaska, including Southcentral when he was a small boy. More lately he had industriously trapped three main lines. His Black River line produced some of the finest lynx ever to grace an auction block. Under Terry's careful tending, his Nowitna line was a leading producer of marten, otter and more than a few wolves (it was also his favorite moose hunting spot!). Closer to town, the Tatalina line gave him something profitable to do during winters when he rested the other lines!

Norm Phillips on the trapline long ago. Click to enlarge.

Norm Phillips on the trapline long ago. Click to enlarge.

Terry was able to trap the remote areas he did because of his proficiency as a pilot. His old PA-12 never won any beauty contest but it was reliable transportation. I rode in it several times including a memorable sheep hunt about 10 years ago.

Terry had mentioned a craving for sheep meat and I offered to help solve the problem! I had one area in mind south of town and we took off one night the day before the opener. I pointed out the strip and Terry buzzed it. In fact, he buzzed it five or six times. I never question my pilot in such things, but after we were on the ground I asked Terry if he hadn't been overly cautious. "Not really." he replied. "This is where I shot the $ 9000 caribou!" He was familiar with that gravel bar all right; he'd wrecked a cub there years ago, trying to fly out caribou meat!

During the D-2 battle, Terry invited me along on a mercy mission, A certain local trapper, who shall remain un-named (but who was an ATA board member and who became a state senator later!) called from Washington D.C. and asked us to close up his Washington Creek cabin, since it looked like he wouldn't be back for awhile. It was already early April and things were melting fast. Terry and I flew over to Minto early one morning. Unfortunately, there was a lot of overflow and it had latched onto the snow machine and sled parked on the creek. We chopped both pieces of equipment out of the ice and used a come along to winch them up the bank. We nailed up the cabin and tied the machine to a tree for the bears to play with! Then we snowshoed back to the Cruiser and flew back to town. Terry spent a lot of time and av-gas helping other people.

While his airplanes were key to trapping remote areas, so were his beloved dogs. Terry was no lightweight and neither were the members of his dog team! Long after the rest of the world changed to skinny dogs, Terry was steadfastly raising, training and using traditional "trapline" dogs. He had a strain of malamute-McKenzie River husky crosses that were just plain workers. In the early 70's Terry crossed these dogs with two large village dogs that he got from Ken Chose's kennel down river at Anvik. The result was a super trapline dog. There aren't many of this strain left, but I've got one. The way I came to own the dog is typical of how Terry helped his friends.

Terry had a litter of pups. I had just lost my old leader in a dog fight, but I knew what Terry was getting for the pups and I couldn't afford one! Terry, though, knew how attached my whole family was to that old leader and how badly we missed him. He conspired with my wife Jan, eventually trading one of those pups for one otter pelt. Terry took great delight in knowing that my birthday present that year was one of his pups!

Terry's favorite dogs of course were his malamute female "Nippy" and the McKenzie male "Novi." They worked hard for him and he pampered them. Together with the Anvik dogs, they were the basis for the strain. Terry even had their portraits painted professionally one summer!

This spring, ATA won't have Terry to teach us a few more tricks about rat shooting or trapping pushups. The Yukon River Treaty delegation won't have the benefit of his commercial fishing expertise. Dean won't have him to help judge the fur contest. Alice won't have him to be a loving husband and dad. I won't have him to call on for advice, encouragement or just friendship.

But, I still feel close to Terry. So do a lot of fine people I'm closer to now as a result of knowing Terry. (Written by Peter Buist November 1988 AT)

Norm Phillips began trapping in Alaska in the winter of 1958-59, on the upper Chena River. Since then, he has trapped the Fox area, Goldstream and the south fork and middle fork of the Chena River. For ten years. Norm concentrated on the little Chena and Anaconda Creek... but since his retirement he has added an area on the Yukon River where he and Ali have a trapping cabin. "I have a couple of traplines. One is on Hess Creek on the Yukon and the other is on the Little Chena. At Hess Creek I trap mostly marten, fox, lynx, wolves, wolverine, mink, otter... everything. Later in the season when the beaver fur is prime I start trapping on the Little Chena, which is my beaver line."

Norm's Hess Creek trapping area must be reached by plane, boat or snow machine. It is far from the nearest road. The only communication Norm and Ali have with the outside world is through Trapline Chatter oft KJNP. Otherwise they enjoy each other's company in the solitude of the great Yukon River country.

Norm was the second president of the Association following the death of Fabian Carey, and served until Peter Buist became president in late 1978. Norm still actively supports the ATA as an 'elder.' His advice and perspective on Association matters is highly regarded and sought. He has had a column in the Alaska Trapper on and off through the years, and always presents thoughtful advice and information for both novice and seasoned trappers.

Congressman Don Young with a leg-hold on his hand at a hearing in Washington D.C. Surrounded by antis. Click to enlarge.

Congressman Don Young with a leg-hold on his hand at a hearing in Washington D.C. Surrounded by antis. Click to enlarge.

Then there is Ken Fanning. Ken Fanning never rests. He was without a doubt the political activist of the early board, and many of the ideas he originated are still in use today... the most significant of which is the Alaska Trapper magazine itself. He also initiated the Trapper School which is still held annually by the ATA. You would have to have been present at those red hot meetings of old, when trappers debated the issues surrounding the land claims and federal usurpation of state's rights to appreciate the energy of those times. Perhaps the best way to describe Ken is to reprint one of his editorials. Remember that the following editorial in the Alaska Trapper was written in the heat of the D-2 battle. It was a time when Alaskans knew they were fighting for everything we believed in... The right to self determination.

"As we go to press, the future of trappers and D-2 lands is an unsettled question. There will not be a D-2 lands bill passed in this session of Congress.

As for the trapping fraternity, and those individuals living and trapping on federal lands which may be affected by D-2, you may take a small sigh of relief. Whatever the future outcome, your concerns and interests were not properly addressed in any version of legislation being discussed. Hopefully, with your support, if any D-2 legislation is adopted in the future, you will be able to continue your lifestyle.

Although we made tremendous progress in gaining more acceptable access provisions, and in reducing the size of areas closed to trapping, over the house passed version of H.R.-39, we shall face an uphill battle on subsistence provisions which could literally stop you, the trappers from continuing your avocation.

Extreme environmentalists have managed to propagandize Congress into believing that there are two types of trapping in Alaska, subsistence and commercial. Subsistence trapping, they claim, is so wide spread and essential that it will be allowed, even in parks. Of course the only hitch is that you can't sell your fur nor can you make it into garments and sell them. Despite the fact that you and I, Don Young, Ted Stevens, Mike Gravel, Jay Hammond and all the native leaders in the state recognize that for all practical purposes there is so little trapping of that type as to make its impact on either people or wildlife insignificant, environmentalists shall bring it up as some major concession allowing the continuance of a lifestyle. Baloney! The other type of trapping is commercial. It makes little difference if you're a fourteen year old who caught his first marten and sold it for $22.35, or a professional who works his rear off to clear $ 3000, for six months work, or a bush resident who runs a short line to pay for winter staples. If you're not a subsistence trapper, (and who is by that definition?) then you're commercial... like in developer, miner, oil company entrepreneur... you know, commercial... big business. And everybody knows that big business is bad and must be stopped!

If trapping is not prevented outright, by closure on many of these acreages being discussed, it will be strangled slowly through rigid access provisions, and the inability to build cabins, (or through trespass notice and destruction of existing cabins.)

It is imperative that you write a brief personal letter to your governor, your senators, and your congressmen urging them to push for legislation that will accommodate your needs. The needs of those who have been using and respecting the lands for a hundred years, and those whose impact has obviously not been detrimental. Otherwise why would those wilderness areas we seek and live in all of a sudden be recognized as 'wilderness?'" (editorial from the Nov 1978 AT by the Real Alaska Coalition).

Ken was a bright star in the sky of the Association during those years of turmoil. Ken went on to form the Real Alaska Coalition during the D-2 battle... and then got elected to the legislature. Subsequently he was appointed to fill Ron Bennett's senate seat when that senator passed away in mid-term.

Ken presently resides in Yakutat where he is a guide at his Yakutat Lodge.

Another star in the ATA horizon was never a board member, but was awarder the Trapper of the Year for his work in support of trapping and trappers. This Was Don Young. He took our cause to Washington when the antis were attacking. On national television he stuck his hand into a trap to show that leg hold traps were not designed to torture animals, but rather to hold them.

Two other prominent people who served long years on the board of the association were Ron and Elaine Long.

"Ron Long was born in 1935 in Oceanside California, but raised primarily in Oklahoma and Colorado. The potential surfer realized the life long ambition to be a wilderness trapper in Alaska in 1957, when he came up with the Air Force. He has trapped a couple of areas, but primarily the Tanana Flats ever since.

His line extends from the Tanana River to the Wood River via the Bonnefield trail, and for several miles on both sides. His main cabin is past the Little Butte, and he has several other spike camps. Ron is a full-time trapper, and his experience on the trapline is unequalled by Fairbanks trappers. He earned the nickname "legend" primarily by his extraordinary lynx catches in the early '70's. Trappers have offered $20.00/ounce for his well guarded lynx lure which reportedly "brings 'em in to where you can catch 'em by the whiskers." Ron traps with sno-go and by dog team and has all species of Alaskan furbearers in his area.

He has been a member of the IATA (now ATA) since shortly after its inception and aboard member since 1974.

In addition to his trapping abilities, Ron Long is a fur buyer and respected as one of the most knowledgeable fur men in Alaska. He seldom misgrades a piece of fur... (Jan 1978 AT p. 14)

Ron was the center of attention during the Blair Lakes bombing controversy. In an article titled Trapper Working While Bombs Fall. Dean Wariner of the Daily Newsminer in October 1974 wrote the article from which the following is taken.

"While fighters may whistle overhead on practice bombing runs, Ron Long is determined to continue tending his trapline on the Blair Lakes Bombing Range.

In fact, Long was running his trapline last week when the Air Force made its first practice runs at the target area 30 miles south of Fairbanks after bluntly refusing to acknowledge Gov. William Egan's request to hold off.

Long had other thoughts. 'They'll have to take me out of there bodily," he said when asked if he planned to continue operating the trapline he has had for several years.

The Army, which granted Long a permit to trap on its range, granted him this year's permit without special qualifications or warnings.

Several other Fairbanksans have traplines near the 52 square mile target area also.

Long, like the others, is not a politician or protester out to make trouble for the government. Running traps is his winter livelihood; and with the fur prices the highest in decades, he expects this year to make up for a lot of lean years in the past.

He's not as worried of the strafing jet fighters as he is about losing game by the disruption of habitats. He said that the marten vanished when the military bulldozers scraped off the circular target area two years ago.

'There was just a small area where the marten would live but when they dozed the trees and the jets came, the marten left." Long said. "They're very touchy animals, especially with young around. If they get disturbed they eat the young."

"Ron Long and others like him will continue to run their dog teams and snow machines over familiar snowy trails to check their traplines. They will work with the tools of frontiersman in solitude broken occasionally by sounds of modem man practicing war with the tools of technology."

On the 16th of October 1974 it was announced that the Air Force suspended plans for the Blair Lakes bombing.

Elaine Long has contributed so much to the ATA that it defies recounting. She was chosen Trapper of the Year in 1980 for her work in behalf of trapping and the Association. She became a board member and treasurer in 1974, and during those years of growth worked tirelessly on one project after the other. Meetings could not really start until she arrived. Coffee, magazines, memberships, dues, organizing Trappers Flings, year after year after year, there was no end to it. As editor of the magazine during some of those years, I knew how much she worked at keeping things going. And, without a computer, she kept the membership straight (something which future editors and board members have not accomplished gracefully).

I would like to reprint another editor's comments about Elaine Long. Jim Greiner, perhaps the all-time greatest Alaska Trapper editor wrote the following in January of 1984 Alaska Trapper.

"Elaine Long is my right arm! Without her, the task of doing what I do each month would be far more difficult and in many cases, impossible. She's been the Treasurer of ATA for many moons, a position that keeps her hopping on a daily basis and, until I became responsible for the computerization of our membership roster, she did the job single-handed. For this she deserves a big tip of the old marten cap! Just how she did it, I'll never know.

Elaine was born and raised in the tiny village of Rampart, Alaska - up on the north bank of the Yukon River. She's Athabaskan lndian by heritage, but chuckled when she told me that she didn't know what the phrase 'Indian summer' meant until she was full-grown.

Trapping was an integral part of Elaine's world until she reached eight years of age. She remembered long trips of 60 miles, by dog sled with her father, when they traveled to his line over near Hess Creek, a Yukon River feeder stream, but she recalls the return home more clearly. They did it on a hand-crafted log raft built for the purpose and about 20 feet in width and about 30 fee t long. The currents of the Yukon did the rest, faithfully carrying them back to Rampart each spring when the trapping season was over.

At eight, she left home to attend a boarding school in Wrangell and at 13 she transferred to another, this time in Ketchikan. Finally she traveled back to the interior to enroll at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks where she graduated four years later.

Jesse Evans, Elaine's dad, came with her when she entered high school. He took work on the Alaska Railroad, and it was through him that she met Ron Long, her husband of 18 years (ed.: this was written in 1984... presently her husband of 24 years!). Many consider Ron one of the best in the small circle of master Alaskan trappers, and in his company Elaine came back to the art of stringing steel!

"I don't consider myself a real trapper," she told me, "but I go along often and do a lot of skinning, and other chores that go with running a 120-mile line. I enjoy it, even though we've had some real weird experiences over the years!"

These experiences have ranged from head-on confrontations with moose, snarled harnesses while Ron was still doing his traveling with a dog sled and team, and ten-mile hikes in total darkness and subzero cold when the snow machines he 'upgraded' to balked.

Elaine and Ron Long. Click to enlarge.

Elaine and Ron Long. Click to enlarge.

Ron and Elaine live in a cozy log home in Fairbanks, with plans to build a new one on property they own along the Tanana River near town. They are proprietors of Interior Alaska Fur Traders, and Ron's fur buying keeps him in the game almost year-round.

Terry Johnson, LeRoy Shank, 'Bear' Wyse. Click to enlarge.

Terry Johnson, LeRoy Shank, 'Bear' Wyse. Click to enlarge.

There's probably no aroma in the world that I enjoy than the one that fills the room where drying pelts are stored. As a result, Ron's storage room is a favorite place for me to hang my hat during a visit. Elaine Long, on the other hand, is but one of the many Alaskan gals who trap - but she too is my favorite!"

I'll second that... Joe Dart...

Peter Buist is the articulate trapper. He can say what he wants to say in a way that is humorous and, although inoffensive... right to the point. If you've been around Alaska long, you are bound to have come across something he has written... newspaper columns... letters to the editor... magazine articles... Pete was an early member of the board, and served for a number of years. He became president in the winter of 1978-79 following Norm Phillips.

Pete's writing style complements his experience as a trapper in Alaska. You know that woven into his writing is knowledge about the Alaskan bush that you can trust. During the D-2 struggle, Pete was going through ink pens at an amazing rate.

Let me present one of his president's messages from the Alaska Trapper of January 1979 as an example of Pete's serious side.

"The political situation for trappers is quite grim, to say the least. Trapping, and hunting for that matter, is about to come to a screeching halt in Alaska. How ironic that trappers, those people who know, love, understand and often live in the wilderness, are those hardest hit. Why?

The answer is elementary. We are small in number. We are politically impotent. We are right in our fight; we know that because we understand what wilderness really is. But we are not political enough to spread the word. If you doubt what I say, just call someone you know, outside, on the telephone. They will tell you that they didn't know that this great acreage has been closed. When you explain our predicament (which is theirs too), they'll agree and they will help spread the word. But remember they did not know.

Jon Gleason, Ken Fanning, Pete Buist. Click to enlarge.

Jon Gleason, Ken Fanning, Pete Buist. Click to enlarge.

Trappers are obviously not known for being eloquent writers, brilliant orators or for that matter, out-spoken at all. But, people, we have to become just those very things. We must spread the word.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Write letters to editors. And I don't mean in Alaska. Write to your old hometown newspaper. Write to big papers you know of, such as the New York Times, or the Washington Post. Write to outdoor oriented magazines such as Field and Stream, Outdoor Life or the official publication of your home state's Fish and Game department.

2. Write to legislators. Both State and National. The United States Senate and House members from your old home state should hear from you. So should some of the wishy-washy people from our own district. Make your opinion known in Washington, but strive too for a unified position emanating from Juneau. Some of our own State Legislators have been in bed with the Feds for a long time on this one.

3. Contact individual friends outside, whom you know are hunters and trappers. Concentrate on those you know will help. Concentrate on those who might be able to afford to come to Alaska for a hunting or trapline trip sometime. Warn them that it might already be too late.

4. Keep yourself informed. Keep in touch with the IATA office for the latest developments, dates and times of demonstrations, etc. Use IATA and RAC (Ed: Real Alaska Coalition) news releases for the basis of factual letters to the above mentioned publications.

5. Take the time to write or telegram Governor Hammond. Tell him what you think about Commissioner LeResche's statement that our demonstrations are "childish." Encourage him to stand tough.

6. Talk intelligently with those who may have supported unreasonable D-2 proposals in the past, who are now not sure they support the right cause. Remind native trappers that commercial trapping is banned in national Monuments for them too. They can't sell their furs either. Remind mountain climbers that it's now a much longer walk to the base of Mt McKinley and some of their other favorite peaks. Remind your native friends of how the Federal government has kept its promises on whaling, waterfowl hunting, and lynx and other trapping.

Most important, do it NOW! Put down this magazine and pick up the phone or a pen and paper, let somebody outside know right now what has been forced on Alaska by the greed of the environmentalists who do not know what wilderness is... only what they think it should be. Pete."

While all this was going on, the Alaska Trapper grew to its present dimensions. Ken Fanning, the founder of the magazine, took his fight to Juneau when he was elected to the state legislature. Joe Dart became the second editor of the magazine in October 1979 after working as the artist-photographer and occasional writer in the magazine under Ken.

One of the unforgettable early board members was none other than Leroy Shank. LeRoy was the prime mover for the original Trapper Fling in the spring of 1975. The Fling became ATA's "Big Moneymaker," and kept the club afloat through the expensive years of the pipeline. LeRoy's imagination and energy moved on to create the now world famous Yukon Quest dog race between Fairbanks and White-horse, Y.T.

"LeRoy was born in 1940 in Ft Morgan, Colorado and raised in Brush, Colorado. He's been exposed to trapping all his life since his dad is still an active trapper and fur buyer in Brush. LeRoy came to Alaska in September of 1960 after receiving a call from his sister and brother-in-law who were living in Fairbanks at the time. He's been an employee of the Daily Newsminer since then as a pressman.

LeRoy's spare time is spent trapping, hunting and fishing. He was an assistant big game guide for 3 years... mainly in the Brooks Range. He was a commercial fisherman with his own fishwheel in '74 and '75, but thanks to Limited Entry he is no longer able to pursue that field.

He's had numerous traplines around the Fairbanks area and before 1970 they were mainly "shank's mare" (pun intended.) From 1970 to 1975 LeRoy trapped with Gerlad Gappert. In 1974, they bought part of Herman Buckholz's original trapline on Beaver Creek around the Big Bend and upriver. That's his main trapline now, but he maintains lines off the Murphy Dome road paralleling the Chatanika and a small line at 15 mile Elliott Highway. He traps lynx, fox and marten, with the latter being his main catch. His favorite trophy though is the Polar Bear he got in 1963.

He has been a board member since 1974, and was Chairman of the Youth Trapping Contest that same year. He was also one of the moving forces in the instigation of the Trappers Flings and the committee of the Fabian Carey Trapper of the Year Award. (January 1978 AT p. 15)

Al Jones is another long-time active member of the ATA. He served several years on the ATA board beginning in the spring of 1976, and was president following Jon Gleason's first stint in the job in December 1981... and served until November of 1983 when Jon again became president of ATA.

Al Jones first came to Alaska in 1969, moving to Ketchikan. Then he and his family moved to Juneau for a spell before Anchorage. He finally got into the Interior in 1973. He actively became involved in the ATA in 1974, and began trapping that same year. (Bill Aldrich can tell you about some of those early trapline adventures with Al.)

As president of the Association, he reaffirmed the ATA philosophy to only take positions on trapping issues. His strong and unequivocal editorial in AT of April 1982 put to rest the internal division in the Association regarding Subsistence. To give you some idea of his decisiveness in this crisis, what follows is an excerpt from that President's Message.

"On subsistence... I want to make it perfectly clear that the Alaska Trappers Association is remaining neutral on this issue. The goals of the ATA are to promote sound furbearer management, the protection of furbearer habitat, and the protection of the rights of trappers (All Trappers) against oppressive trapping legislation. Regardless of the outcome of the subsistence issue, ATA will continue to pursue these goals. Furthermore, as long as I am on the subject, I'd like to reaffirm that ATA is non-partisan. That is to say that ATA is not controlled or influenced by, nor does ATA support any single political party..."

A dramatic consequence of that position was the later withdrawal of the ATA from the Alaska Outdoor Council in response to AOC's position on subsistence. Although some members of the ATA are privately members of AOC, the Association itself is not presently a member. These are the kinds of political issues that can tear an Association apart. It is important to keep the goals of the Association in mind when supporting a cause or taking sides in an issue in the name of the ATA. This was one of the decisions that came hard and it shows the strength of character of the governing body of this Association of trappers.

In the spring of 1980, Jon Gleason was elected to the presidency of ATA. Jon was an energetic and youthful looking president of the Association. He brought a lot of positive charm to the organization, was dedicated and gave generously of his time and effort. Jon grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont, the place where they say "Ayup" a lot. He was no stranger to work, and skillfully managed the affairs of the ATA throughout his term as president. Jon turned his attention to dogs, and successfully ran the grueling Yukon Quest after he left the board of the ATA. Not satisfied to have Jon as president for one term, he returned after Al Jones completed his term for another round.

A Fling of Old: Pete Buist, Norm Phillips (back), Elaine Long, Al Jones, Ron Long, LeRoy Shank and Chuck Vogel. Click to enlarge.

A Fling of Old: Pete Buist, Norm Phillips (back), Elaine Long, Al Jones, Ron Long, LeRoy Shank and Chuck Vogel. Click to enlarge.

Jon served for 10 years in the Marine Corps, and he was employed by the American Embassy stationed in Moscow and Paris. He's been a temporary resident or visitor in 27 different countries. Originally from Burlington Vermont, Jon is a registered Assistant Guide and likes to fish and hunt in his very little spare time.

Gerry 'Bear' Wyse was vice president of the ATA when Jon was president in 83-84. Bear was a trapper for about 26 years having started in California and Oregon, and knows how it is done. He teaches an effective class at the annual Trappers School, and has made countless presentations of trapping methods at ATA meetings.

Early on, one of the most important concerns of the ATA was that there was no Furbearer Biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Department. Without such an agent, how could trappers gather the information necessary to convince anyone of the importance of trapping to the economy of the state... and especially to the more remote areas where income is difficult to obtain. So, the Association engaged in a campaign to create a position at ADF&G for a Furbearer Biologist. These efforts bore fruit in December 1977 when the first Furbearer Biologist in the state's history opened his office in Fairbanks. That Biologist was Victor Van Ballenberghe. Vic resigned from that post in February 1980, and was replaced by the eminent Herb Melchior... who at this writing in May 1990 still holds the position.

I interviewed Vic in January 1980, and asked him to tell us what he had discovered as first Furbearer Biologist. He said that there was a great need for research. I asked him "If you were to set up a priority, what furbearers would you feel need research now?" He answered: "Right at the top of the list at the present time I would say marten, because they are economically the number one species. Lynx are close to the top, they may even be tied with the marten. I think these two species have the greatest opportunity to be over exploited because they are both easy to catch and valuable... both subject to cyclical changes in population too.

Obviously research is not going to provide all the answers, nor will it provide any in a hurry. There are some members of the public who say that they have not seen any research pay off in the past. But I think research projects that are management oriented, not out there studying some obscure effect, will pay off."

Herb Melchior who writes a regular column in the Alaska Trapper keeps the trapping community aware of the many activities throughout the world that affect trappers in Alaska. Herb took over the Furbearer Biologist job at ADF&G following Vic. After a stint in Barrow, Herb came to this job full of enthusiasm for its potential. Perhaps the longest project he has undertaken has been the initial preparation of the Alaska Trappers Manual which is in the final stages of preparation by the ATA. This project which lasted eight years and involved Herb, his co-workers (Dave Woodward, etc.) and members of the ATA... notably John Majak who illustrates the Manual with his clear drawings of sets, etc... Richard Henderson. Larry Voorhees, and Dean Wilson worked together to edit and refine the Manual. When it is completed, it will be available for the trapping public and used at the annual Trapping School. This is a notable achievement in that it is a cooperative effort between the ATA and the ADF&G. each contributing their expertise.

The Alaska Trapper began as a small newsletter called the Trapper's Tails. Issues of this are now very rare collector's items. The Trapper's Tail published for Oct/Nov 1974 announces the "first official election of Board Members and Officers of the Interior Alaska Trappers Association held on October 9, 1974." The results of that election were as follows:

  • Fabian Carey...President
  • Norm Phillips... Vice President
  • Ken Fanning
  • Ron Long... Treasurer
  • LeRoy Shank
  • Candy Monzingo... Secretary
  • Terry Johnson
  • Ken Dunshie
  • Chuck Vogel

That first annual meeting was a Potlatch set up by Candy Monzingo, Elaine Long, Jill Fanning, Marcia Snyder and Carole Clayton. Rober Dick donated 50 traps to be sold to raise money for the new Association... it raised $ 175.00! The Association raised $400 that evening.

Meanwhile out on the Tanana Flats at Blaire Lakes, where Ron Long had his trapline, the U.S. Air Force was practicing bombing. Ron continued to trap there. Here's a note about that issue in the same newsletter...

"Blair Lakes Report: As of this writing, the status of the Blair Lakes Bombing range changes daily... Court injunction was denied... Air Force was to begin bombing... Egan threatened suit... Air Force undecided... Chamber of Commerce urged bombing... The coalition urged no bombing.

This association did send the following night letter to Governor Egan: We strongly endorse and support your concerned effort to oppose the Air Force in its attempt to establish a bombing range in such close proximity to Fairbanks.

We sincerely urge you to continue a strong stand and if necessary, file suit on behalf of the State of Alaska in opposition to the Blair Lake Range.

Very sincerely,
The 180 Active Members of the Interior Alaska Trappers Association."

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Shall we say that the Association started off with a bang?

The Alaska Trapper magazine, which linked the Association members together, was developed by Ken Fanning. He brought it from that two paged Xeroxed newsletter to the magazine that it is today. In October 1979, Joe Dart became the editor of the magazine and continued its production in the same format. As the great D-2 battle was closing, the magazine turned toward "How To..." articles on trapping and related things. After two years, there were enough articles (mostly pen and ink drawings) to complete a book. The Association had the articles combined... and a few more added, and the Alaskan's How To Handbook was created.

While Joe was editor, he got a call from Val Stuve, a veterinarian who had discovered a way to make a training sled for a dog team out of one piece of plywood. Following that story, Val began to write articles for the dog musher community that the ATA magazine concurrently served. (For a number of years the magazine was called the Alaska Trapper and Dog Musher) Val's dedication to writing his witty and informative series went far beyond the wildest hopes of any editor of this magazine. He, without a doubt, has written more miles of creative material in this magazine that anyone else. For those of you who have dogs, a collection of the magazines with his articles would be indispensable. I understand that he is in the process of working on a book based on these articles. I cannot imagine anything that would be more useful in Alaska.

I (Joe Dart) left the editorship in the spring of 1981, and Dave Woodward became the editor until the spring of 1982. He continued the magazine in the same tradition. It was in the fall of 1982 that Jim Greiner took the editorship of the magazine, and methodically brought it to new heights of perfection. The amount of time Jim dedicated to this magazine can only be appreciated by those who have done the same job. Zillions of details... inexorable deadlines... the flow of information and ideas... Jim actualized what Ken Fanning had envisioned... a person who is kind of Association administrator. Jim handled the computerized membership list... the keeping of the store (hats, shirts, buckles, etc.) Association promotions... Punctual... precise... creative... and an incredible writer... Put all that together and you have a real magazine.

Jim gave up the editorship in the spring of 1988 after six terrific years of inspired editing. The next editor was Andy Burgess. He was a newsman by profession, and a trapper. Andy arrived on the scene when the Association was trying to keep its finances from running away. Changes in how the magazine would be printed created some problems in that transitional period when money was getting tighter. I should mention here that the Trappers Fling, created by LeRoy Shank was the main source of Association income for years... but we lost our grip on that source of income and subsequently money became much harder to come by. So Andy was in the hot seat working under these new budget constraints. In the fall of 1989, Joe Dart came back into the editorship. Things had changed a lot since his previous stint with the magazine, and it took time to get a good feel for where we were and where we were going with it. With this present issue of the magazine, it will be one season since I (Joe) re-entered the editorship. Keeping the magazine up to the standards set by previous editors is the real challenge.

One of the issues that trappers faced with the advent of government 'protection' policies was trapping cabins. It would be unthinkable to attempt trapping in Alaska's wild country with out trapline cabins where you can retreat from the cold... after all, trapping is a winter vocation. It took some convincing to get that across, but finally the state of Alaska got its act together with the urging of the ATA and the legislature passed a trapping cabin bill. It took a year and a half after the 1986 passage of that bill to get the policies and regulations into effect. Basically, a trapper could apply for a trapper cabin permit to build a trapping cabin on state land. The trapper had to establish his trapping area, and the cabin had certain size requirements, but these were the result of input from trappers and the ATA, so we were pleased with the results. It took awhile for the trapping cabin forms to get out, but they finally came out and we published them in the magazine for a long time to ensure that our members would have them.

The kids of the ATA. Click to enlarge.

The kids of the ATA. Click to enlarge.

Another very early invention was the Voluntary Trapline Registration program at IATA. Again, in this same issue of the newsletter: "Voluntary Trapline Registration? To help answer the questions of those who ask, 'Where can I trap?' the IATA is considering incorporating a program of voluntary trapline registration for its members. Members with traplines in remote areas may not be interested, but those who trap in congested areas may well appreciate this method of letting others know where you're established. This idea is certainly still in the planning stages, and will be discussed at the November meeting."

Ron Long teaching. Click to enlarge.

Ron Long teaching. Click to enlarge.

To make a long story short, that voluntary system did come into effect, and for a long time Norm Phillips kept the maps and at every meeting those maps would be hauled out and gone over by many trappers old and new. There was a boundary committee established to help resolve disputes with trapline overlaps. Some of these disputes were so heated that to describe them would embarrass the disputees too much... but, although the maps and the voluntary registration still is in use today... the boundary committee threw in the towel a long time ago. Some things work and some things don't...

Norm Phillips demonstrating technique. Click to enlarge.

Norm Phillips demonstrating technique. Click to enlarge.

The Trapping School is something special to us. It was started by Ken Fanning back in the beginning, and he arranged for the Tanana Valley Community College to give college credit for the course. It was instant success, and although the bulk of the classes were held in-doors, there were field trips of varying lengths on the trapline. Some of those field trips were intense. Many of the 'old timers' in the Association lent a hand teaching the various trapping methods for the Interior. Peter Buist took over the school after Ken... and then Chuck Vogel and other board members worked together on it for awhile. Finally it came to Richard Henderson, the current education coordinator for the ATA, who now manages the Trapping School, and it is held out on the Chena Hot Springs road on one week-end in late fail each year. This school has been one of the important contributions to trapping in the Interior. It is a place where new or displaced trappers can meet the experienced local trappers (and biologists) and learn the ropes. Trappers volunteer their time to present this school, and they faithfully show up for their presentations.

LeRoy Shank presenting the Trapper of the Year to Ted Washeleski. Click to enlarge.

LeRoy Shank presenting the Trapper of the Year to Ted Washeleski. Click to enlarge.

One of the important people in the club is Larry Voorhees... the visionary... Larry was president of the Association from January 1984 through the end of 1987. (There was a gap of half a year before Tom Hudson became president in the fall of 1988.)

Larry was Association president for a long time. One of the themes that he pursued was the unification of trappers throughout Alaska. Larry said if we call ourselves the Alaska Trappers Association, then let's get with it and be a statewide forum for trappers rather than a regional group. To that end, he worked to bring trappers in other parts of Alaska to this realization, and moved the Association in that direction. This was a delicate problem. As Alaskans we all know how independent we are. We don't want people from other regions telling us what to do or say... and they don't want us telling them what to do, yet we have to work together otherwise it's a divide and conquer situation. The opposition is always looking for the cracks between pro trapping groups to exploit.

I should mention that the ATA had long since engaged in a "Chapter organizing" effort throughout the state... but it was one of those critical times when the glue that held things together was not sticking properly... i.e. we had a crisis developing in the notion of a statewide trapping organization... with local chapters.

In the April 1984 issue of AT, Larry, in his President's Corner message, addressed the issue of the relationship between ATA and its sister organizations throughout the state. Notice the democratic notions woven into of Larry's remarks in this column about a very fragile union between very independent people. I think this column is an expression of great statesmanship. Here is part of that column:

"The Alaska Trappers Association Board has long felt the need for better communication between itself and trappers throughout the state. During its regular March session, and only after considerable discussion, the Board decided to invite other board representatives from each of the ATA chapters throughout the state, to a meeting in Fairbanks. The purpose of the special meeting was to discuss the matter of communication in detail, and explore the options that might be open. Through good fortune, Parker Dozier, the associate editor of The Trapper, Chairman of the Fur Resources Institute and NTA Director at Large, was in Fairbanks, and agreed to talk with the group.

The ATA board scheduled the meeting for Saturday, March 17 at the Noel Wien Library in Fairbanks. In addition to Parker Dozier, in attendance were Floydd Weaver and Ralph Miller from the Delta Junction, (DTA), Joe Cook and Lee Martin representing the Kenai Peninsula Trappers Association (KPTA), Jim Reiss, Barney Anderson and Jim McKracken from Palmer, Alaska. Bob Usher, along with David Bruss, Bob Tobey and Larry Scribner from Glennallen (Copper River Valley chapter), Steve Titus, Al Jones, Dean Wilson, Herb Melchior, and Larry Voorhees representing the Fairbanks Alaska Trappers Association Board. Herb Melchior, ATA Secretary, chaired the meeting which lasted most of the day.

The main order of business was the election of officers for a state-wide trappers' council, which will be given a more formal name in the near future. Those elected were Jim Reiss of Palmer (chairman), Larry Voorhees of Fairbanks (Vice Chairman) and Joe Cook of Sterling, Alaska (Recording Secretary.) Meetings of the newly formed council will be held quarterly at changing locations within the state. Sites for the quarterly meetings will be selected to allow for the maximum representation of area trappers while distributing the travel burden.

The first of these meetings is scheduled for April 15, 1984, in Glennallen. Minutes and information will be made public through the Alaska Trapper magazine. At first, these meetings will not be for the general membership, but the members will be polled for opinion on issues as they come up. Some of the more pressing ones at the present time are the proposed Federal land closures down near Kenai, the proposed Low Altitude Military Practice Range in the Denali Highway area, and others.

I see the prime function of the council as being a way by which area needs can be quickly communicated all over the state of Alaska. We will be able to alert trappers to the issues and keep them alert to the progress, or lack thereof, being made. One of the main concerns expressed by the members at the meeting was the lack of a trapper code of ethics, and this will probably be the agenda for the April 15th meeting. The meeting on the 15th of March was a resounding success, and those present expressed real positive attitudes about the proposed council. Everybody felt that this concept is what's needed at the present time here in the state."

One of the battles that ATA participated in was "SB 301 which establishes a furbearer management program fund within the Department of Fish and Game, and directs that all money from the sale of trapping licenses may only be used for furbearer management. SB 301 also increases the resident trapping license from $3.00 to $10.00, which is still the best buy in Alaska!" The Fur Takers Talk article in April '84 AT by Norm Phillips went on to say, "... hopefully, SB 301 will get a pass vote in the Senate. Next will be the House Resources Committee chaired by John Ringstad and Dick Schultz. We're looking forward to their assistance in passing this important bill through committee and the House of Representatives... A good comprehensive Furbearer management Program is long overdue in the state of Alaska. This program will not only benefit those of us who trap but all Alaskans who enjoy seeing that occasional fur animal in the wild. Furbearers are an important resource in this state, and its time we Alaskans realized a good program to enhance fur populations, without having to divert funds from other vital fish and game management programs."

After Larry Voorhees, Tom Hudson became ATA president. Tom was a hard worker and terrific money raiser. In the summer, he and Ron Schwab would blitz the Tanana Valley Fair with raffle tickets and bring back enough cash to keep us afloat for months. Tom is a pilot, and a student in airplane repair. "Big iron," is what he likes to work on, and he is the kind of character that would make you feel safe if you knew he had just fixed the plane you were flying in. Tom resigned from the presidency at the last Board meeting of the 1989-1990 season, but he's still willing to do his part to support the ATA at the Fair.

Although he's never been president of the ATA, Dean Wilson has probably contributed more time and energy to the organization over the past few years than anyone else. Working constantly in the background, Dean keeps in touch with every facet of trapping and fur activity in Alaska and beyond. As our legislative officer on the Board, he watches what is happening in Juneau, and prods our representatives along in responding to trappers needs. Dean winters in Fairbanks these days, but has his home in Copper Center. Along time Alaskan, trapper and fur-buyer, he knows what's what around here. Dean was one of the formidable leaders of the recent demonstration in Anchorage (pro-fur) and if you are a trapper in Alaska and have not met Dean, then you are really missing something. Dean is to the ATA what a keel is to a boat. He keeps it on course.

This short history cannot tell all the things that happened during these years, nor does it identify all of the early characters who made the club what it is... Shorty Wilbur, Bill Aldridge, Ken Dunshie, Sam Medsker, Tim Snyder, Candy Monzingo, Chuck Vogel... Wendy Schiffler... Roland Quimb, Bill Aldridge and many, many more...

It only puts the main people and issues that the ATA faced during its formative years. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have known and worked with these guys. When I say that I am proud of the ATA, it is with good reason, In spite of the struggles...the antis... the political shifting... the changes in Alaska... this Association steers a course true to its ideals. And there are very few groups you can say that about today.

Joe Dart, editor, 1990

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Phone: (907) 457-1774
Mail: P. O. Box 82177
Fairbanks, Alaska 99708
Email: info@alaskatrappers.org


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