Selected Articles from our
The C.A.S.H. Courier
ARTICLE from the Spring 2008 Issue
Murder In An Alaskan Forest
by Walter Brasch
No one—at least no
human—knows his name, or even if he had a name.
We don’t know where or
when he was born. We know nothing about his life.
But we know a lot
about his death. A politician/trapper from northeast Pennsylvania went
to Alaska and killed him. We know this because the local newspaper
opened almost a full page to tell us about the glorious hunt.
The story included two
pictures. One three-column picture showed Mighty Trapper, smiling and in
heavy cold winter clothing, holding the dead lynx by his back legs, his
life cut short by at least 10 years. The other picture showed Mighty and
his brother, a biologist with Alaska’s Fish and Game Department, each
holding a dead lynx. One of the animals appears to be a young female,
possibly not even past puberty.
The article tells us
that the politician/trapper, who began trapping and killing animals
while in elementary school, went to Alaska to “live a lifetime dream of
running a trap line in the Alaska interior.” He said he hoped his lines
would ensnare not only lynx, but wolves and wolverines as well. However,
traps are indiscriminate devices that not only capture their intended
victim, but also other animals as well, including dogs and cats if
they’re in the area. He didn’t get wolves or wolverine, and only killed
one mink. “My first thought,” he remembers, “was we should be able to
catch dozens every day.” Unfortunately for the trapper, the mink
traveled beneath the snow and ice.
The average Canadian
lynx (Lynx Canadensis), a close relative to the bobcat, weighs 18 to 30
pounds, has acute sight and hearing, has long legs and large furry feet
but can’t run fast except for short distances, and survives primarily on
a diet of snowshoe rabbits. Their only major predator is the human.
The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service lists the Canadian lynx as “threatened species” in the
48 contiguous states; the Humane Society of the United States is
pursuing litigation to change the status to “endangered.” The primary
habitat of the lynx is the boreal forests of Montana, Idaho, Washington,
Wyoming, with a presence also in New England, Minnesota, Utah, and
Colorado. But, Alaska allows unlimited killing during a three to five
month season, depending upon region, beginning about Nov. 1 each year,
and Mighty Trapper was there to kill lynx. “The state says to capture as
many as you can,” he told others after returning to his home.
“Trapping is the
greatest sport there is,” this politician told the outdoors reporter,
and pointed out, “I’m so very proud to be a part of this real American
heritage.” When not serving as one of three county commissioners, he
works every morning for several months a year killing muskrats,
raccoons, fox and, reports the newspaper, “other fur bearing animals.”
He often jokes around—with individuals and in public meetings—that he’s
a member of PETA. Not the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,
but People Eating Tasty Animals. It gets a laugh, and lets everyone know
what he thinks of animal rights organizations.
As “thrilling” as
setting lines and killing lynx may be to some people, it isn’t all that
difficult. “Because they’re curious, not as wary of humans, lynx are one
of the easier animals to trap,” says Doug Larsen, director of wildlife
conservation for the Alaska Fish and Game Department.
A trap line, which may
extend several miles, usually consists of dozens of individual traps.
The snare wire trap relies upon an animal walking into a wire noose and
being strangled by its own forward motion; a steel jaw trap clamps down
on an animal’s leg; the conibear trap is a body trap. Mighty Trapper
used a few snare traps and a couple of dozen coil spring traps. “Most
animals suffer from a few hours to a few days,” says Pierre Grzybowski
of the Humane Society of the United States. The animals often die from
hypothermia, strangulation, shock, or from inability to flee predators.
Although several trapper codes of ethics suggest that traps be checked
regularly, and several states require trappers to check their lines
daily, Alaska has no such requirement. Animals that are still alive,
even if only barely at the time trappers return, are killed by being
choked, clubbed, or shot in the head. The carcasses are often thrown out
as trash, the fur usually sent to auction houses.
In the March 2008
auctions, the two largest fur auction houses sold about 5,000 lynx
pelts, each for about $300. The pelts of most other animals sold for
under $40 each, many for under $10 each. The house takes a 9–11 percent
commission. Although prices were higher this year because of
extraordinarily cold weather in northern China and Russia, thus causing
fewer animals to be killed, “Only a tiny minority trap full-time and can
make money from it,” says Grzybowski. The money most trappers receive
from auction “barely covers the cost of gasoline and the cost of traps.”
Most trappers, says Grzybowski, “do it solely for the recreation, and
About 40 percent of
the 500 bidders at the North American Fur Auctions sale were from China,
according to data provided by NAFA, one of the two houses. Most of the
other bidders came from Russia, Greece, and Turkey. But, the coats don’t
stay in those countries; they are designed, sewn, and shipped into the
United States and other countries where the rich can parade their
The fashion industry
is what drives the trapping and sale of fur. Faux fur, synthetic fur,
looks almost exactly like real fur, is just as warm as real fur—and is
significantly cheaper. One or two lynx pelts are necessary for a coat
trimmed in fur. Full-length lynx coats, which might be made from as many
as 15 pelts, sell for $7,500–$20,000; a few sell for as much as $50,000.
Jackets sell for about $5,000. Although most trappers are men, women are
the primary buyers of fur-trimmed and full fur coats. “It’s a status
thing,” says Grzybowski, “they want to wear real fur. They want to show
A Saks Fifth Avenue
full-color catalogue in October 2007 told its customers, “This season,
fur takes on so many imaginative shapes—Discover it all at the Saks Fur
Salon.” One of those shapes at the Salon was an $8,000 woman’s jacket
“with brightener-added lynx trim,” available for a sale price of $5,600.
Among other chain stores that sell real fur are Burlington Coat Factory,
Dillard’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom. Lynx
hats, jackets, and other clothing items regularly appear on amazon.com,
eBay, and dozens of on-line stores. However, more than 100 major
designers and chain stores—including Calvin Klein, Guess, Tommy
Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Lands’ End, J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, American
Eagle, and Gap—refuse to work with or distribute real fur.
Mighty Trapper says he
plans to return to Alaska in two years when both the rabbit and lynx
population are expected to be at a 30 year peak. But, the increased
population of the lynx and the possibility that the fashion industry may
find other animals to exploit will probably lead to lower prices at the
March auctions. It may not matter, anyhow. Mighty didn’t even sell the
pelts. He had two of them tanned, and the other one, the one of the
largest lynx, sent to his home, eventually to be stuffed and mounted—a
trophy of a murder.
As for the newspaper?
If Mighty returns to Alaska, it’ll probably run another story and
picture of him and an animal he killed. Almost every day during the
Christmas season, the newspaper prints several pictures of orange-clad
hunters and their deer and black bear. During other times, there’s
likely to be pictures of hunters and almost every fur-bearing animal in
the region, including bobcats and coyotes, neither of which is edible,
neither of which threatens humans. The editor’s attitude to those
readers who complain in this highly religious rural area where boys and
girls grow up with guns and legally begin killing animals at the age of
12 is: “If you don’t like it, turn the page.”
Perhaps some day
Americans, including the politician/trapper who claims to be religious,
will turn the page on violence and actually follow the Sixth
Commandment: “You shall not murder.”
Walter Brasch is a
professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. His current books are
America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of
Constitutional and Civil Rights; “Unacceptable”: The Federal Response to
Hurricane Katrina; and Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media
and American Culture. They are available through amazon.com and
other on-line sources. Forthcoming is Sinking the Ship of State: The
Presidency of George W. Bush. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
We thank Walter Brasch for giving
C.A.S.H. permission to reprint this article which appeared in
Dissident Voice on April 4, 2008. Visit Dissident Voice at