Facts, History & Management
- Wildlife Management
- Fur Trade History
All life depends upon other living organisms. We may decide, on a personal level, that we will no longer eat meat or wear fur, leather or woolens. However, innumerable insects and animals will still be affected by our need to protect and harvest vegetables and cereals. Meanwhile, land used to grow crops and build our roads and cities was once wildlife habitat.
Every plant and animal species has the potential to reproduce in numbers which would exceed what its environment can ultimately support. Man, presumably, has the same right as other species to make use of this natural surplus - so long as we protect habitat and manage wildlife populations responsibly.
The choice of synthetics can NEVER be for the sake of animals. Synthetics are chemical products, the manufacture and disposal of which causes pollution, depletes non-renewable (usually petroleum) resources and disrupts natural life-supporting ecosystems. Pollution and the destruction of habitat today pose the gravest threats to the survival of thousands of plant and animal species around the world.
Fur, by contrast, is a natural product, a fully renewable resource. Trapping and fur farming are controlled, to ensure that furs can be taken year after year - long after the richest oil well has been depleted.
All leading conservation organizations accept the responsible, sustainable use of renewable resources, of which well-controlled trapping and fur farming are prime examples. These organizations include the National Wildlife Federation, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sponsor of the World Conservation Strategy, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The sustainable utilization of renewable natural resources is now recognized to be a cornerstone of genuine long-term conservation.
Trappers and sportsmen, in practice, serve as environmental "antennae" for our largely urbanized society. While living and working on the land, they are often the first to recognize habitat degradation, chemical pollution and other threats to wildlife.
Fur farming also contributes to sound environmental conservation. Wastes from meat and fish-packing plants are a major component of the feed for farm-raised fur animals, which then return organic fertilizers to the soil. This makes both economic and environmental sense.
No furbearing species is endangered or threatened by the fur trade today. This has not been achieved by accident. It is a result of education and careful controls, at national and international levels.
Furbearing species can now be taken quickly, in ways which cause little stress. This doesn't mean existing traps cannot be further improved this is precisely the goal of current research.
What is certainly cruel, however, is to ignore the suffering caused by disease and starvation when uncontrolled wildlife populations outstrip their habitat; to ignore pollution and habitat destruction; and to arbitrarily deny people still living on the land the right to make use of the resources their environment provides.
No. Whenever humans and animals share their environment, there may be a need to control wildlife populations. Beavers flood farmland and roads; muskrats undermine dikes and canal banks; coyotes and foxes attack domestic livestock. Many species become more susceptible to disease - including rabies - as their population density increases. For the protection of humans and domestic animals, they must all be controlled, whether or not there is a market for furs.
Yes, there are, but none which are more selective, humane or carried out with more respect for animals and nature.
Quite the contrary, species which lose their economic value are often the most difficult to protect. Local interest in maintaining vital habitat and viable populations wanes. No longer valued as a resource worth protecting, these species are reduced to "pest" status - prime targets for extermination.
Possibly, for a short period, but then nature's own methods of regulation would take over. Starvation and disease may be "natural", but they certainly aren't humane. Often, they reduce animal populations far below the numbers which a sound wildlife management program, utilizing trapping, could maintain.
When the foxes in Sweden were allowed to reach excessive levels, disease soon eliminated ninety percent of their numbers. The same situation is now occurring in Denmark. By contrast, selective hunting has brought Swedish elk and Danish deer populations up to the maximum their habitats can support. Controlled trapping has done the same for beaver and many other furbearing species in North America.
Those who suggest we "leave the animals in peace", ignore the fact that we have already interfered profoundly with Nature. Today humans are the most numerous large animals on earth. Our cities, industries and agriculture emit by-products and wastes which reach the most remote corners of the globe.
The challenge today is to find ways of using renewable resources without endangering species and essential ecosystems. This is the true meaning of conservation - "wise use".
There are many examples.
In Louisiana, millions of acres of coastal estuaries and marshes provide some of the richest wildlife habitat in the world. Over 400 species of birds occur in the region, and Louisiana winters more ducks and geese than any other part of the United States. The coast provides an important crop of fish, shrimp, oysters, crabs and other marine products. Louisiana is also a leading fur-producing state, accounting for ninety-seven percent of North American nutria and some 500,000 muskrat annually.
The tremendous reproductive potential of muskrats and nutria, however, can pose a threat to their environment. Without adequate harvesting, these animals can totally strip vegetation ("eat-out"), following which their populations "crash". The region is left scarred, denuded of vegetation. Under the right conditions, this process is cyclical. Once disease and starvation have eliminated most of the animals, vegetation regenerates, the area of open water is reduced and, eventually, animal populations can rise again. But this is not always the case. Greg Linscombe, a wildlife biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has warned:
Our greatest concern now is that some of these damaged areas, combined with all the other factors causing marsh erosion, may not recover but become permanent open water . . .
If we could not trap in these marshlands, a large portion of coastal Louisiana would be affected. The total loss of marsh vegetation would be phenomenal. This would mean not merely the loss of the fur industry of the state. . . but also a loss to our seafood industry and a loss of habitat essential to migratory waterfowl and to hundreds of other species of birds and mammals dependent on these wetlands.
The key to abundant wildlife in coastal Louisiana is habitat. If we protect these marshlands through management, including fur-animal harvest, we can ensure these renewable resources for untold generations.
The fur trade has taken these responsibilities very seriously. Trappers energetically support the current humane-trap research programs. In fact, most of the new designs now being tested are submitted by trappers themselves.
Fur farmers work closely with veterinary authorities and have developed comprehensive Codes of Practice to ensure the highest possible standards of animal care.
Animal-welfare concerns relating to the fur trade have been recognized and addressed responsibly. The real threat to the welfare of animals today, as trappers and fur farmers know only too well, is habitat destruction - caused by the excesses of a predominantly industrial society which has lost contact with nature.
The myth that producers receive a "pittance" for their furs dates from the epoch of the European colonial empires, but certainly has no relevance today. Trappers and fur farmers can now sell their furs to local buyers, or ship them directly to large international auctions where prices are established by open public bidding. Auction houses deduct a small commission for grading and handling furs, and remit the rest straight to the producers. Most of the major auction facilities are now actually owned by the trappers and fur farmers themselves.
The fur trade is still characterized by a large number of relatively small-scale, generally family-run operations. As a result, it is extremely competitive; there is no question of "monopolistic" control or excess profits at any stage of the production cycle. The final price of a fur coat reflects the many intricate and largely hand-craft processes which are required to produce it, and the financial costs associated with a business cycle extending over one complete year from the time furs are collected until the consumer buys the finished garment.
Furs are certainly beautiful, but they are also extremely practical. In colder climates, a high proportion of men and women own furs; they find them light-weight, warm and well-suited to their environment. A fur garment can be "remodeled" and, with proper care, will outlast its cloth equivalent for many turns of the fashion wheel, as the flourishing market for used furs eloquently testifies. Finally, furs are non-polluting and biodegradable - qualities which hopefully will become increasingly "fashionable" as we become more conscious of our environmental responsibilities.
If we tried to eliminate every product that is not absolutely "essential" to our survival, there would not be much left. To the strict vegetarian, meat is a frivolous product. What then about leather shoes? Are beer and wine "necessary"? Hops and grapes grow on land that once provided habitat for many wild creatures. Tourist travel consumes great quantities of gas and oil and other non-renewable resources, as does the manufacture of televisions and video-recorders.
Our consumer-oriented society does face basic questions about resource use. But this discussion will not be furthered by attempting to impose arbitrary judgments. The real "luxury" which we can no longer afford is to waste time and energy on narrowly-focused debates which fail to address our real environmental and social problems.
The fur trade is proud to supply natural products of exceptionally high quality, while promoting true environmental conservation. For thousands of people in rural and remote regions around the globe, the trade provides critical income and employment, while maintaining habitat and native wildlife. For these people, fur is a way of life, an integral part of their heritage and culture.
Furs are a valuable and particularly beautiful gift of nature - an important natural resource to be used wisely and with respect.
Jim Bridger (1804-1881). Trapper, scout, mountain man. One of first white men to see the future Yellowstone Park and Great Salt Lake, which he believed to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Became partner of Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830 and established Fort Bridger in Wyoming Territory in 1842. Laid out routes for the Central Overland Stage and Pike's Peak Express Company. Returned to Missouri in 1867 where died on his farm on July 17, 1881.
Rendezvous were held on a yearly basis at various locations until 1840, mainly in Wyoming, but Pierre's Hole in Idaho and Bear Lake in northwest Utah were favorite sites as well.
Fort Manuel Lisa was established in 1807 by Manuel Lisa at the mouth of the Big Horn River near Hysham. This was the first permanent settlement in Montana and was occupied until 1811.
John Jacob Astor was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the US. He amassed his wealth through fur-trading, opium smuggling, and New York City real estate. Famed patron of the arts. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest person in the US.
In 1919, the Hudson’s Bay Company was approaching its 250th year in business. What began in a coffee house in London, in 1670, had now grown to become the undisputed leader of the international fur trade.
The desire for beaver fur hats in European men’s fashions dates back centuries and spurred the development of the 17th century North American fur trade. Beaver fur was the most prized of the fur trade because of its water repellant qualities. Encouraged by European trade goods, natives hunted beaver to extinction in some areas.
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