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Speaking of Furbearer Management and Conservation

Despite what activists say...
The fur industry is all about conservation

From the column by Gary Ball, The Sudbury Star

It's fascinating to see the anti-fur campaigns heating up again.

That's because you can bet your bottom dollar that every time a crew like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) trots out another gullible, attractive young woman to pose in the nude saying: "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," things are going well for Canada's fur industry.

The first fur auction of the current season (December) saw the gavel dropped on about $2.7 million worth of wild fur at the Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. sale in North Bay.

With three more sales scheduled for this season, Mark Downey, CEO of Fur Harvesters, expects sales totals to hit $12 million, up $2 million from last year.

Canada's first exports may well have been dried cod taken off the shores of Newfoundland by Basque fishermen long before Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, but the fur trade and its export record date back something like 400 to 500 years. And there are accurate records of Canada's fur harvest over that period of time.

What those records show is that fur, for the better part of five centuries, has been a solid trade commodity, one of the building blocks of the Canadian economy. They show that fur prices have always moved in cycles, driven by supply, demand and the whims of fashion.

More interestingly, of course, is the fact that fur is a renewable resource. Trappers, working their traplines like farms, cropping and selling only surplus animals are able to continue to harvest fur century after century. 

The cyclical nature of fur prices means that trappers and furriers live through boom and bust market cycles.  But these cycles are driven by demand, not by dwindling numbers of furbearers. Canada's furbearer population is strong and stable, thanks in part to it's contribution to the economy.  Trappers are quick to defend their livelihoods. Enlightened self-interest and a love of the outdoors makes Canadian trappers front-runners in sound conservation practices.

Trappers can point with pride to traplines which produce as much fur today as they did a century or more ago, despite booming human populations in Ontario. Quite an accomplishment. And, as long as they have an economic stake in the outcome, trappers will continue to protect the resource. Indeed, many continue to trap and act as stewards of their trapping zones when fur prices drop and it actually costs them money to trap.

The fur industry as a whole, trapping wild fur and farming species such as fox and mink, is worth an estimated $800 million and provides about 75,000 jobs.

Each time fur prices dip in Canada, the anti-fur people like PETA jump on the bandwagon, claiming that their antics are destroying the market for fur, by making people ashamed of wearing fur garments. That's what's behind the "I'd rather go naked" nonsense.

But those claims just aren't true. It is market forces that drive fur prices.

And, as the economies of eastern Europe and Asia strengthen, most traders expect demand for top quality wild fur to increase. Asia, particularly China, is a huge enough market that it could have a tremendous long-term effect on demand for wild fur.

Personally, I firmly believe that anything that is good for the wild fur industry is good news for wild furbearers in Ontario and in Canada. Trappers have long been leaders in conservation, in harvesting their traplines sustainable, to ensure that populations remain stable.

Every time I think about trapping I am taken back in memory to the Kearney trapline (along the western edge of Algonquin Park) of the late Ralph Bice.

Ralph, a master story-teller and superb trapper, first began to harvest fur in the early 1900's, before the Wright brothers succeeded in flying their fragile airplane at Kitty Hawk. He was still trapping and spinning yarns as late as 1985, long after the first man walked on the moon.

Expect for a brief stint in an auto plant during the Second World War (Ralph was too young for the First World War and a little too old for the second), he lived his entire life as a trapper and guide. He raised his family which include teachers and judges, on the harvest from his trapline.

Today, another trapper is taking fur from Ralph's old trapline. It is producing as much wild fur as it did 50 or 75 years ago. If present and future holders of that trapline remain true to their principles of sound conservation, it is likely that Ralph's trapline will continue to produce a renewable harvest of fur well into the next century.

That's what I think of when I think of conservation and sustainable development: Ralph Bice and his trapline, the resource he held in trust for future generations.

Gary Ball
January 10, 2002
Read Gary every Thursday in the Sudbury Star

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Last modified: June 30, 2012