Yukon Trappers’ Association free from debt’s snare

For Jackie Yaklin, organizing the Yukon Trappers' Association's financial records seemed an ideal activity. It combined her financial skills with her passion for the environment.

For Jackie Yaklin, organizing the Yukon Trappers’ Association’s financial records seemed an ideal activity. It combined her financial skills with her passion for the environment.

A professional bookkeeper for over 25 years, she has a degree in environmental sciences. Although not a trapper, she can skin squirrels and rabbits. She grew up in the bush and knows the benefits of living close to nature. Trapping opened up the territory, and it still provides income for many people.

Putting the books in order could have been a dream. But it was really a nightmare.

“It was awful,” she said, sitting behind the Old Fire Hall on July 19. “It was terrible.”

Yaklin was one of more than 100 individuals celebrating the association’s recent payment of all their debts.

Her involvement with the YTA began in 2007 when she worked at its store on Fourth Avenue. In 2008, she went to Texas. That same year, the association moved the store to the Alaska Highway.

Yaklin returned in 2009. On June 27 of that year, she attended an association meeting. When she had left, she was aware decisions were being made that would “put the association at financial risk,” she said. But that night she learned it was not simply in danger – it was on the verge of becoming extinct. Some members of the executive were discussing declaring bankruptcy.

The association was in debt to the tune of $84,000. The “greatest stumbling block” was rent, said Yaklin. The association owed its current landlord and was still paying for space at the Fourth Avenue property they no longer used.

According to public records, the association spent just over $35,500 on rent during their 2006-2007 fiscal year.

On top of that, revenue was down. The new store had poor signage. They could no longer rely on walk-in business from tourists. Regardless, “they kept buying supplies like they were on the main drag,” Yaklin remembered.

There had been mismanagement at the store, explained Larry Barrett, one of the organization’s directors.

Barrett also attended the June 2009 meeting. It was a night of change. The president at the time resigned. Over the summer, more executive members followed suit.

A small group of individuals were left to pull the association out of debt, but things would get worse before they got better.

The Alaska Highway-location landlord padlocked the building. He, understandably, wanted his money. The association wanted to retrieve their papers and items. They went to court in August 2009. The judge wanted to resolve things quickly, recalled Yaklin. The association was granted immediate access to the property to gather its things and vacate the premises in one day. It also provided assurances that the outstanding rent would be paid. That took about a year, said Yaklin.

The association was homeless. Papers and merchandise were put in storage, photocopies of out-of-print books filled several boxes and labels didn’t match files’ contents. Organizing the papers took two months. Another two weeks were spent preparing statements to creditors. Yaklin estimates they had around 25 creditors, not all from the Yukon. Some debts were for thousands of dollars.

So the association began fundraising. “You name it, we did it,” said Kathryn Boivin, the current YTA president. Boivin was not on the executive in 2009, but was one of the members who volunteered to keep the association running. Volunteers, like her, worked from their homes and coffee shops. The association even sold furs from the back of a vehicle. Support for the association continued and one yard sale garnered $1,900, which was then divided among all the accounts. The association continued this practice with any money it raised. When some of the smaller accounts reached zero, Yaklin knew the organization was really making progress, she said.

The association also had a few easy breaks, said Boivin. Some creditors cancelled their debts, a few individuals purchased multi-year memberships and one creditor in Vancouver asked for his debt to be paid in furs instead of money.

Shortly before the “out of debt” party, the association received a letter from a trapper asking to order supplies. That someone trusted YTA to purchase items for them is “the greatest form of flattery,” said Boivin.

The organization came out of debt in June. It has approximately $6,000 – money they don’t owe to anyone, said Yaklin. According to public records, as of January, YTA’s revenues were slightly over $22,000.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Boivin.

But times have also changed since the organization began in 1973. Boivin raised two children on the income of her traplines. She said it’s doubtful that can happen today. Alex Van Bibber, 96, has been a member since YTA began. The trapline he was raised on is now a sanctuary for wild game.

The YTA executive is determined to never repeat the past. It rents from the Yukon Fish and Game Association on Strickland Street, and would like to own property one day.

There are no plans for the association to open another store. Van Bibber, for one, believes things ran better when they were simpler. But furs are still providing business.

In 2011, Jeannine Moffatt opened The Trappers Cache on Second Avenue. Moffatt previously volunteered with the YTA and left shortly before the store closed in 2009. In 2010, some trappers approached her to consider opening a store. So far, business has been good. She estimates she deals with almost half of the trappers in Yukon. She has a contract with North American Fur Auctions and is in good standing with their president.

Wild fur prices are rising. At NAFA’s February auction, lynx sold for an average of $142.23, about a $20 increase from the previous year. Mink prices increased from just over $17 in 2011 to just over $23 this year.

But Moffatt doesn’t view the revived YTA as business competition. She doesn’t see them opening another store, and even if they did, she wouldn’t be concerned.

“There’s enough room in this town for two,” she said. “There’s enough room for three.”

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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