The Canadian Beaver & Our Furry Heritage
March 21, 2014 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Out in the field with one of Alberta's few female trappers. Emily the Trapper is smart, loves animals, and thinks your ideas about fur trapping are all wrong.

Lamb has always found animals beautiful. She used to spend entire afternoons sitting in the hay feeder on her family’s Sundre-area farm when she was a girl just so she could see the cows up close when they came to eat. After graduating from high school, Lamb decided she wanted to be a veterinarian or a Fish and Wildlife officer. She eventually earned a diploma in Wildlife and Forestry Conservation online, then began an internship with the Cochrane Ecological Institute.

“I was very much against trapping,” she said. Lamb didn’t feel comfortable collaborating with people whose primary mission, she presumed, was to trap and kill the same animals she worked to rescue. “I just wanted to save everything,” Lamb said. Her philosophy shifted when she met long-time trapper Bill Abercrombie. Abercrombie hired Lamb as a permanent employee of his company, Bushman Inc.

The article led me down a bit of a rabbit hole surrounding trapping and the fur trade in Canada:

Contemporary trappers see themselves as stewards of wildlife, committed to animal welfare, who help maintain the overall health of native fauna. There are roughly 60 000 active trappers in Canada, including 25 000 Aboriginal people. The number of licensed trappers varies from year to year and has ranged up to 80 000 since the mid-1990s. Trapping occurs in almost every country of the world. At least 3-5 million fur-bearing animals are trapped annually in Canada, primarily for their skins (pelts), although occasionally for bait and for human, dog and wild animal food.

Trappers are expected to follow the code for responsible trapping and comply with regulations. Canada is a signatory to the Agreement on Humane Trapping Standards, which as well as providing for fur exports, mandates that fur-bearing animals must be trapped using humane methods that are proven to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. Trapping has become a contentious issue. Trapping accounts for one-third of the furs produced in Canada; the balance comes from fur farms.

Canadian fur exports topped $706-million in 2012, a 33% increase over 2011 — and more than double the value of exports in 2000. This infographic that shows the extent of the trade and split by species. Canadian government statistics (last updated in 2010, pdf) show that demand is rising, driven by demand in China. The number of pelts used for an average fur coat is frankly daunting.

Some of the photos on the first article may be upsetting, but are not shown unless you click the link.
posted by arcticseal (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The infographic is worth clicking if you don't have time for all the links. That's what brought home to me the scale of the Canadian fur trade.
posted by arcticseal at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2014

That girl right there is my friend Dave's dream woman.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:01 PM on March 21, 2014

posted by arcticseal

posted by Jacqueline at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

My father's best friend is retired now, but he worked a trapline in the winter and worked as a faller for a logging crew in the summer, which makes him just about the poster child for anti-environmentalism. But he also knows more about the ecosystem of the northern BC forests than almost anyone else you could ever meet and routinely makes friends with wild animals. People who work with animals don't necessarily feel all lovey dovey about them the way pet owners do, but they're generally pretty caring and respectful of them.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:13 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Canadian Geographic and the Edmonton Journal have recently done pro-trapping pieces. There is a well-informed letter to the editor in the Journal that takes a contrary stance.
posted by No Robots at 2:56 PM on March 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

The history of Canada is, for a very long time, the history of trapping.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Canada: where a "beaver hunt" is just exactly that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:21 PM on March 21, 2014

Fur has been a part of Canadian culture, especially in the far north, since the first humans crossed the Beringia land bridge from Asia.

Imposing bans on fur while supporting factory farming (the real cause of ecological stress on our planet) for example is entirely political rather than ethical, and totally cruel.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:18 PM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Great post & some awesome links, but I'm still not going to be shopping for fur anytime soon.

I know someone in HK whose business is exporting fur from mainland China to Russia and eastern Europe, where they sell for substantially less than "western" imported furs. Then, she imports western fur and sells it at an enormous markup to the luxury buyers in China. It's 2014, but surprisingly the fur trade is still massive.
posted by modernnomad at 9:12 PM on March 21, 2014

We hunt and farm and kill meat because we have evolved as omnivores. Making use of all of the parts of the animals we killed for sustenance was not only practical but an act of veneration in our human past. But killing for sport as in trophy hunting or killing fur-bearing animals mainly for their fashionable hides are selfish, disrespectful, unnecessary and ultimately ruinous practices. Emily may be smart, compassionate and resourceful but very few humans today really need a fur coat.
posted by islander at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Imposing bans on fur while supporting factory farming (the real cause of ecological stress on our planet) for example is entirely political rather than ethical, and totally cruel.

Surely you can be anti-both of these things? And the fact that factory farming is cruel and abusive doesn't mean that a great deal of trapping is not also pretty cruel in how it actually plays out, even if it's not wiping out beaver or other wild animal populations. You can fancy it up fur trapping as some sort of ecological mission, but there are kinder ways to reduce animal populations than many of the ways that trapper do use.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:11 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting spin in the first article.

This year I decided to actually talk to some of the people I work against, namely trophy hunters and trappers. Their personalities are all over the field, and I do know a woman like Emily, but I've met far more people who actively dislike the animals they trap, seeing them as vermin. I wanted to like this article, but there's too much misinformation.

My bias is still against trophy hunting and trapping. I think trapping is cruel. I think fur is only beautiful on living animals.

The article claims that lone wolves "often end up hunting cows and pets off people's farms". Citation, please? Claims of livestock loss by predators are vastly misrepresented. Stray dogs are more likely to kill livestock. So is the weather. Here is a wolf predation on livestock infographic. Notice that wolf predation is around 0.2%. Coincidentally, reports of livestock predation by wolves tend to be made by people who hate wolves.

Likewise with coyotes, another scapegoated animal. The article states that "Coyotes, as an example, are overpopulated throughout much of the province. Trappers are compelled to help manage their numbers, especially as the animals infiltrate urban areas." This is such a painfully pervasive and backwards myth. If you kill a coyote, you'll get two more the next year. Killing coyotes causes the population to grow because litters get larger. That's why only wolves, not people, can ever really get rid of a coyote population permanently. Trapping and hunting only makes their population stronger. It's also a blindly unscientific strategy because it disrupts the pack hierarchy. People forget that wild canines have complex family structures much like a human family. Not to mention that the so-called problem animals are often not the same animals targeted by hunters or trappers.

I disagree with their opinion that trapping is somehow merciful to lone coyotes (known as "transients", by the way). Unlike wolves, coyotes often can and do survive on their own. Transient coyotes might have a more difficult time hunting than a pair or even a pack, but they are by no means doomed to death or to an awful life by virtue of living alone.

I disagree that trapping is merciful at all, actually. Consider that even if a snare doesn't slowly suffocate an animal, or create blood clots causing its eyes to bulge and its brain to explode (these animals are called "jellyheads"), even if a trap doesn't break bones or sever muscle, the trapped animal is still thrashing around, unable to head home, scared, until the trapper finally arrives to put it out of its misery.

I'm not surprised that they only mention the Conibear trap in relation to beavers. A wild canid caught in one of those dies a horrific death. Those are the types of grisly anti-trapping photos you see where a coyote or a dog has its entire head and neck caught in a metal torture device.

Trapping is unnecessary. Animal populations will manage themselves. You can't make up for habitat destruction by "managing" these animals who suddenly exist on the fringes of towns and cities because there's nowhere else to go.

Finally, we're given the common pro-hunting argument that hunters and trappers are the true stewards of the wilderness: "I manage the fur-bearer resource in this area. That’s what trappers do. The government doesn’t do it. The animal-rights people don’t do it. We do it.” At which point I'd like to link to this great article from the Wolf Conservation Center (NY), specifically this quote:

"State game commissions are the same in that they know who they are paid by and as the name indicates only deal with game species. What this does is produce single species management where wildlife in general, the supposed great benefactor of the hunters largess, are ignored or worse yet, like predators, treated as vermin to be hunted without control because they interfere with game species. This also leaves the other 95% of the population, who is really paying the lion’s share for wildlife habitat, with little or no say on how the other 99% of the wildlife are managed. This is wrong and needs to be changed."

Yes, people other than hunters and trappers contribute financially to the upkeep of wild spaces and to the continuing existence of wildlife. Arguably, we contribute more than they do. In the same vein, one can track wildlife without killing wildlife, or really get to know the wilderness for its own sake, not to take home furs or trophies. I'm one of those people. We exist.

I'm happy that thoughtful people like Emily exist, but I strongly disagree with their reasoning.
posted by quiet earth at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

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