Katie Ball is a trapper from Thunder Bay, Ontario who also runs her own company, Silver Cedar Studio, designing and making fur garments. She is a strong advocate for fur, representing the Northwestern Fur Trappers Association, the Ontario Fur Managers Federation, the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Fur Harvesters Auction. Let’s find out more about the woman who says fur is in her blood …
Truth About Fur: You grew up helping your father run a trapline, but spread your wings to work in pet sales, veterinary care, and as a fashion model. Yet you returned to trapping and in 2014 went into business producing fur garments. In an interview with the International Fur Federation, you said fur “is in my blood and who I am to the core.” How did that happen, and how does it feel to be so sure of who you are?
Katie Ball: It started as one simple question. I was at a trappers’ convention looking over new techniques of fur-processing when my dear friend (and now mentor) Becky Monk reached over a sheared and dyed peach beaver pelt and asked me, “Have you ever considered working with fur?” I had been looking for a medium that would allow me to combine my love of nature, fashion modeling and creativity into one package. Fur was that medium.
Fur goes beyond my individual self. It encompasses our rich Canadian history, it is the warmest, most natural product on the market, and its uses and ability to be manipulated into so many versatile looks know no bounds.
For me to be a part of this tradition is humbling. I take pride in my upbringing in a trapping family, and will do whatever it takes to help pass that on to future generations.
TAF: You’ve been working the same trapline with your father since 1989. Tell us about it, and the changes you’ve seen.
Katie Ball: Our trapline is 150 km north of Thunder Bay. The terrain is enveloped by boreal forest and offers a variety of landscapes that allows for a broad range of furbearers to be harvested. Lakes, rivers, bogs, marshes, swamps, red and jack pine forests, birch and aspen as far as you can see over rolling landscapes, we have it all. From the warm start of fall to the frigid deep freeze of winter, we truly experience the four seasons nature has to offer.
Many changes have come to the landscape over the years – forest fires, logging, mining, roads and aggregates. But these are not as negative as many think. Old growth does not really exist in boreal forest; fires, pests and disease make certain of this. We have had two forest fires that I have witnessed. With burns come new jack pines that would not seed without the searing heat of the fires. New shoots and growth give food to the fauna. Logging can create better habitat for specific wild game, increasing numbers. Mining reclamation restores the surface to its original glory. Out of destruction some of the most amazing opportunities can arise, and Nature sure knows how to make the best of it.
On another level, I’ve seen animal populations rise and fall in synch with one another, like lynx and rabbit. Rabbits have approximately a seven-year cycle. As the population begins to increase so do the lynx. But then the rabbit population crashes, and the lynx decline right after. Moose populations sank with the cancelation of the spring bear hunt years ago, but the hunt has been reintroduced in hopes it can help the moose population recover.
TAF: You currently represent three outdoors associations, so you are clearly motivated to serve. What benefits do such organisations provide to the fur trade, and what would you say to a trapper who is undecided about whether to participate?
Katie Ball: These groups help give a voice to the outdoors community. Without them, we would not have a say on topics that could wipe out our passion, heritage and future. Most trappers just want to be out in the woods being stewards of the land, and I know the feeling. But politics wait for no man. We need to be on top of new regulations, legislation and activist groups who wish to do away with our lifestyle.
So get involved with your outdoors groups and make your voice heard. Help secure the future for our children, and take pride in what you do and love. We all share the same resource and our love of nature. There is strength in numbers, so why not work together to ensure that our way of life can be enjoyed for generations to come?
TAF: You call trappers “stewards of the land”. Can you give examples of how this works?
Katie Ball: Statistics show that there are more furbearers now than there were when the fur trade started. Populations are healthier, and even gene pools have benefited from trapping.
Trappers notice the small things, like what animals are moving through an area and when, or changes in their food supply. Are certain berries and plants growing? If it’s a wet and cold spring, we know that many of the grouse young will not survive, and this can affect predator populations.
By knowing the lay of the land and how it all interlinks, trappers are a vast wealth of knowledge. Logging companies looking for gravel or decommissioned roads are better off talking to the local trapper than just following their GPS. They may be told of a washout or an old trail that will save time, money and resources.
Wilderness groups collecting data are better off talking to a trapper who will have insight on the local flora and fauna, and maybe even historical data.
Outdoors enthusiasts looking for a great camping spot or trails to hike – a trapper can point them in the right direction.
Plus, if something were to happen, it’s nice to know that someone is always out there in case of emergency.
TAF: How do you respond to accusations by animal rightists that trapping is inherently cruel? And do trappers need to work harder, or differently, to have their side of the story heard?
Katie Ball: With all the work conducted by the Fur Institute of Canada and many other groups, and with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) in force, it is hard to believe that even with the highest standard of trapping regulations and certified traps that many still think of trapping as cruel.
I have found that by talking to the public, educating individuals on our regulations, and standing behind our ethical practices, most get a bigger picture and realize that we are not out to destroy animal populations with archaic trapping methods. We are out helping maintain a healthy balance in nature.
Trappers need to stand up to such negative rhetoric. We need to be heard, as silence accomplishes nothing. And it is so much easier to reach the masses today.
Many trappers are not interested in getting in front of a crowd or being filmed, but they can still make a difference with one person at a time. Take the time to answer questions from inquiring minds. Take someone out for a day that would normally never get the chance to experience the wilderness. Spark a passion in an individual that will last them a lifetime.
It is only by educating the public that we can stamp out the negativity that surrounds trapping.
TAF: You have experience both as a trapper and in the fashion world, and are now producing fur garments. The Silver Cedar Studio website says that being a trapper helps you understand fur “in the way a carpenter understands wood.” Can you expand on this?
Katie Ball: As a trapper I understand how the animals that I harvest live. I know their habitats and what challenges that may bring. And I understand the precautions and prepping that a trapper must undertake for each animal. That being said, as a designer, I can see fashion trends, take creative risks and develop a product specifically tailored for the individual customer.
By seeing both sides of this story, I am able to determine what furs are best suited for each and every fashion expectation and need of the customer. For example, warmth and durability are of the utmost importance to an outdoors enthusiast. Beaver and otter offer water-resistance, thick leather for durability, and dense underfur for holding air against the body while swimming. This translates to extra warmth for my client even on the harshest of winter nights.
TAF: On the subject of women as trappers, you told the International Fur Federation: “Regardless of gender, when it comes to working on the trapline, it comes down to individual strengths and weaknesses. There is no skill out in the bush that is labelled as gender specific.” Do women need encouragement to break the stereotype that trapping is for men?
Katie Ball: This is a question where the outside world perceives it differently than it is, and I do not understand why. When the world looks at trapping, it is visualized as almost exclusive to men. However the story is very different if you are part of the trapping community, or even just visit a trappers’ convention.
To quote my friend and freelance writer (who is not a trapper) Ava Francesca Battocchio of her first experience at a trappers’ convention, “You can imagine my intrigue when I found myself amongst a group of women trappers at the convention. These women were not passive onlookers – they were on the board of directors, they were role models and they were revered icons.”
There has always been quite the female presence in the trapping world. However, female numbers certainly have been on the rise and I for one am proud to see these numbers increase.
TAF: The future of fur trapping in North America rests with the next generation. Is it secure? Are enough young people taking up trapping, and if not, how can they be encouraged? Are currently low prices for wild furs affecting recruitment of young trappers?
Katie Ball: There are plenty of youth that are taking up the reins as trappers thanks to families getting them out on the land and making a pleasant experience that they will carry on for a lifetime. However, it’s the people and youth that do not have this inherent advantage that we need to get out there.
“Take a kid trapping” is by far one of my favourite slogans. But take your kid and their friend. Take your niece or nephew and their friends. Get your neighbours and family friends to experience the great outdoors as well. There is no time like the present. It’s not just about trapping; educating people and creating allies will ensure that our heritage is passed on to future generations.
When it comes to fur prices, as my father always says, “We don’t do this for the money. We do it because we love it.” The fresh air, nature, exercise and pride in knowing we are a part of a delicate balance – these are just a few reasons why we enjoy time spent trapping.
But if you want to look at it monetarily, fur prices have always fluctuated, depending on trends, politics, and the state of financial security. One factor that I find has been driving my business since I started is naturally sourced materials. People are not only looking at where their food comes from these days, but also where their clothes come from and what they’re made of. People are choosing to get away from petrol-based products and are actively seeking out ethically sourced and eco-friendly products. I believe that we can start to see an increase in demand just from this trend alone in the near future.
TAF: Let’s close on a lighter note. Trappers always seem to have a bunch of stories to tell. Can you share some of your memorable moments?
Katie Ball: Every day presents a new challenge, experience and memory: feeding the whiskey jacks from my toes as a kid, working in the skinning room with my dad in the dead of winter. Going out with my partner Richard has become a new and wondrous adventure, sharing our passion for the outdoors and learning from each other along the way.
Driving down the winter road with my uncle looking for signs of moose, when all of a sudden we were flanked on both sides by a wolf pack. They ran just like dolphins on either side of a boat. This lasted for about 3 km, then they disappeared as fast as they came.
Otters swimming around the boat while collecting our minnow traps.
So many events, but they always come out during conversation around the fire.