Recent proposals by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York city councilors to ban fur sales should not only… Read More
Recent proposals by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York city councilors to ban fur sales should not only worry furriers who risk losing their jobs and businesses. These proposals should be a matter of grave concern to anyone who values living in a free, fair and tolerant society.
There are so many things wrong about the proposed bans on fur sales that it is hard to know where to begin, but let’s look at six of the most important problems:
1. These proposals to ban fur sales are a flagrant example of arbitrary government infringement on fundamental human rights. No one is forced to wear fur, and animal activists are free to campaign against the fur trade, but this does not give them the right to impose their personal beliefs on others. After decades of anti-fur campaigning, many people still clearly want to buy fur. The activist response is to seek legislation that would take away our right to choose for ourselves. This should have alarm bells ringing on all sides of the political spectrum!
2. It is illogical and discriminatory to consider banning fur sales when 95% of Americans eat meat and wear leather. Of course, PETA and other “animal rights” groups that are lobbying to ban fur sales are equally opposed to any use of animals, even for food. But most North Americans do not accept this extreme view; most of us believe that humans do have a right to use animals for food, clothing and other purposes, so long as these animals are treated responsibly. There is no justification for banning fur sales while hundreds of millions of cows, pigs and sheep, and several billion chickens, are killed each year for food in North America. Even philosopher Peter Singer stated in his landmark Animal Liberation – the book that launched the animal-rights movement – that it is completely hypocritical to campaign against the fur trade while most Americans continue to eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy.
3. As a society we do, of course, sometimes restrict personal choice, but only for very important reasons. To ensure that animals will be there for us in the future, for example, we ban trade in endangered species. But endangered species are never used in the fur trade; all the furs we use today are raised on farms or culled from abundant wildlife populations. This is assured by state, national and international regulations. Animal welfare must also be respected -- and decades of scientific research and government regulations ensure that fur today is produced responsibly and humanely. Trapping in North America is regulated by state (in Canada, provincial) wildlife authorities, in accordance with ISO standards and the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards. Fur farms are being inspected and certified to ensure compliance with codes of practice developed by veterinarians and animal scientists. There is simply no credible evidence that fur animals are treated less respectfully than other animals we use for food or clothing.
4. Wildlife populations often must be culled to protect property and human (and animal) health, whether or not we use their fur. Overpopulated beavers flood homes, farms and roads; raccoons and foxes spread rabies and other diseases; coyotes are the main predators of lambs and calves – and now attack pets and even people in urban areas; predators must also be managed to protect sea turtle eggs and other endangered species; and the list goes on. But if we must cull some of these animals, surely it’s more ethical to use the fur than to throw it away.
5. The fur trade supports livelihoods and cultures, especially in rural and remote regions where alternate employment may be hard to find. We all care about nature, but most of us now live in cities; indigenous and other trappers are our eyes and ears on the land, the people who monitor wildlife on a daily basis and can sound the alarm when nature is threatened. Fur farms provide employment in regions where the soil is too poor for other agriculture, helping to support rural communities. Fur artisans maintain handicraft skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. In this age of mass-production, each fur garment and accessory is still made individually, by hand. The fur trade maintains a range of remarkable skills and knowledge, a part of our human heritage that should be respected and encouraged, not persecuted with bans based on hateful and misleading propaganda.
6. Finally – and certainly not least – fur apparel is a long-lasting, natural material that is recyclable and completely biodegradable. After many decades of use, your fur can be thrown into the garden compost where it returns to the Earth. By contrast, most clothing today is made from petroleum-based synthetics that do not biodegrade. Instead, these synthetics leach thousands of plastic micro-particles into our waterways every time they are washed – plastic that is now being found in oysters and other marine life. It is bizarre at a time when we are trying to reduce our use of plastic – for example, by banning the use of plastic bags and water bottles – that some cities would even consider banning a long-lasting, recyclable and biodegradable natural material like fur!
As this quick review shows, recent proposals to ban fur sales are anything but “progressive”. They would unjustifiably usurp our right to use a sustainably produced, natural and biodegradable clothing material. They are arbitrary and discriminatory, especially in a society where most people eat meat and wear leather. They are completely unjustified because the modern fur trade is extremely well-regulated to ensure environmental sustainability and the responsible treatment of animals. And they would unfairly attack the livelihoods and cultures of thousands of people who maintain heritage craft skills and a close relationship with the land.
Again: no one is forced to wear fur. But everyone should be concerned about these misguided proposals to take away our right to make up our own minds about very personal and complex ethical choices.
Part of modern life in Western societies involves dealing with a handful of people who believe they can tell the… Read More
Part of modern life in Western societies involves dealing with a handful of people who believe they can tell the rest of us how to live. They call themselves “advocates” if they man a desk or "activists" if they like shouting at people, while the rest of us call them "bullies" or worse. They are more influential now than ever before, empowered by the reach of social media and unprecedented access to spineless politicians and lazy journalists. Against this backdrop, the state of siege by animal rights advocates against the fur trade has reached a critical point.
So how does the future of fur look? Following are some of my personal musings, but we'd be interested in hearing what your crystal ball shows.
Fur Farming Bans
Let’s start with an overview of some frustrating setbacks the fur trade has suffered in recent years, and as we do so, picture a bunch of rolling snowballs that start small and just grow and grow.
The first snowball was fur farming bans. It started rolling in 2000 when fur farming was banned in England and Wales. Since then, other European countries have followed suit, or will phase in bans in the near future.
These bans have harmed the fur trade not because they've disrupted production (no major producer has yet stopped fur farming), but because they've provided support for activist claims and fuelled the public perception that something about fur must be bad. Generally speaking, only bad things are banned, right? And this lays the groundwork for future attacks on the trade.
Paradoxically, while this was going on, the fur trade was actually bouncing back from a slump in the 1990s. Pelt production and prices were up, and exciting new design techniques were reflected in fur’s growing catwalk presence and rising retail sales.
Then in about 2015, a second snowball started gathering speed. After years of trying, with minimal success, to bully designer brands into dropping fur, animal rights advocates at last saw their efforts paying off. One by one, brands caved in, and when Gucci announced in 2017 its plan to drop fur, the media circus that followed ramped up the pressure even more on the holdouts. For the last year, barely a month has gone by without another brand going fur-free.
Ironically, Gucci’s high-profile flight from fur presented the fur trade with a golden opportunity to talk about its sustainability credentials. As part of their rationale for dropping fur, brands invariably cite advances made in fake fur, while failing to mention that it’s made from petroleum-based plastic – a non-renewable and unsustainable resource that pollutes and doesn’t biodegrade.
Fortuitously, at exactly the same time as Gucci announced its plan to drop fur, the hottest environmental news story was about our need to reduce our use of plastics, with a particular emphasis on micro-fibres used in clothing like fake fur. This played right into the wheelhouse of real fur which is sustainable, has a negligible environmental footprint during its production and lifetime, and after decades of use can be added to the garden compost pile to biodegrade.
In response, animal rights advocates and some clothing companies are already proposing a way around this dilemma: If we can’t use real fur or plastic fur, the obvious solution is to make fur-like fabrics from organic materials. Right now research labs are feverishly trying to make “fur” out of such things as bark and mushrooms, and since "leather" made from pineapple leaves is already on the market, you can bet they'll succeed sooner or later.
Now a third snowball is gathering momentum: retail bans. Unsurprisingly, it started in California, first in West Hollywood in 2013, then Berkeley, and then San Francisco. Now Los Angeles is drafting legislation for its own ban, while euphoric animal rights advocates say New York and Chicago are in their cross-hairs.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a campaign is in full swing to ban all fur imports to an entire nation, and their demand is bolstered by a simple piece of logic. Remember how I said fur farming bans lay the groundwork for future attacks? Now supporters of an import ban are arguing that it is illogical that the UK bans fur farming but still allows the sale of furs produced in other countries. The current Conservative government has shown no interest in taking such action, but the main opposition party, Labour, has vowed to introduce a ban if it's voted into power. When the next general election (scheduled for 2022) comes around, a fur ban may well be high on the agenda.
While these snowballs now barrelling down on the fur trade may seem unstoppable, there are at least two major obstacles in their way.
In the mid-term at least, the fur trade will continue to be able to count on major markets such as China, Korea, Russia and other former Soviet Republics where the voices of Western animal rights advocates are largely ignored. That's not to say that animal welfare is not being discussed in these countries. But the activist message that will not easily translate is that animals have rights and should not be used by humans for any purpose. In time, animal welfare standards in non-Western countries may catch up with those of the West, but the prospect of these countries embracing animal rights is remote indeed. Even in North America and Europe, the signals are more complex than activists would like us to think. The trend of using fur for smaller accessories and trim has made fur more accessible; in fact, fur is now being worn by more young people than ever before.
In the long term, the fur trade will not die because common sense will prevail. This will be rooted in a common understanding of three things: (a) that our future will depend on using renewable natural resources sustainably, (b) that there is a need to manage the natural environment, including wildlife, and (c) that sustainable use includes minimising waste.
Even now, many animal-loving city-dwellers who rarely have contact with wildlife are rethinking their views on what, for them, may be tough questions. For example, in a North American context, when an “urban coyote” attacks a child, should it be euthanised? What about beavers that flood roads and houses? Or raccoons that carry rabies into our cities? And if we agree that these animals should be culled, is it ethical to throw the fur away or should it be used? In the future, as our understanding of these issues continues to grow, more and more people will agree that using the fur is the ethical choice.
So how will the fur trade look in, say, the year 2100? Here are my predictions.
• The future of fur will be inextricably linked to that of fake fur, so let’s deal with that first. Fake fur made from plastic will no longer exist, maybe even 20 years from now. Instead, it will be made from organic materials, either agricultural waste or synthesised in labs. If you don’t think it will ever approach the qualities of real fur, I disagree. Scientists can be very creative given enough industry support, so expect to be wearing “furs” made from turnip heads or fungus by the end of the century. This will present stiff competition for real fur, just as plastic fur does today, but likewise it will sustain interest in fur's unique look while providing cover for real fur lovers from harassment by animal rights activists.
• Fur farming bans will remain in western Europe. It won’t matter whether acceptance of fur as a sustainable resource becomes more widespread. Bans tend to stay in place for the simple reason that they are much harder to lift than they are to impose, especially when lobby groups threaten to raise a ruckus. (For example, it's been largely accepted by wildlife managers that the US Marine Mammal Protection Act will never be amended to allow commercial harvesting of seals or other marine mammals, no matter how abundant or destructive they become.)
Elsewhere, the future of fur farming will depend on the industry's success in meeting new challenges. Animal rights terrorists will continue to try to drive fur farmers to financial ruin, and this in turn will negatively impact the recruitment of new farmers. But if farmers can weather this storm, another challenge will come from the rise of organic fake fur. As the performance of this new material improves, the viability of fur farming will depend on being able to produce pelts of a quality and type that fake fur makers cannot or choose not to imitate. (This is not exclusively a fur problem: producers of meat and other animal products will face similar challenges, and some already do. Butter competes with margarine, real milk with soy milk, and a variety of animal-free organic leathers are now available.) Fur farmers and their associations should begin thinking about their own "unique selling proposition", as marketers call it.
• As for the future of retail bans, my crystal ball is very cloudy. When West Hollywood banned fur sales, it was easy to dismiss this as the foible of a quirky little town, but San Francisco, Los Angeles, and perhaps the entire UK, cannot be so easily dismissed.. That said, the bans so far are largely symbolic because people can just buy fur elsewhere. Also, the courts have ruled that wild furs cannot be banned by municipalities in California since wildlife management is under state jurisdiction. It's also noteworthy that sheep fur is exempted from the ban proposed for San Francisco, perhaps because Californians love their Uggs so.
If I have to make a prediction, it's that in 2100 there may still be retail bans in some Californian cities and the UK, and perhaps a few other locations where no one wears fur anyway, but that will be it. But if animal rights advocates succeed in forcing bans in New York and Chicago, the future will be more difficult to predict.
• On a positive note, increased public understanding of sustainability issues may herald a new Golden Age for fur. Wildlife will always have to be managed, and no matter how good organic fake fur becomes, there will always be demand for “the real thing”.
Plus we're now seeing that design innovation and effective marketing can turn prices around. Prices for most wild furs have been depressed since the early 1990s, yet coyote prices are now at record levels thanks to the popularity of fur-trimmed parkas sparked by Canada Goose and its imitators. Perhaps in the future, with inspired design innovation and marketing, fur producers, designers and artisans will once again be properly rewarded for their efforts.
• Last and least, what does the future hold for all those animal rights advocates so bent on taking down the fur trade and any others that use animals? My tongue-in-cheek prediction is that they will all move to California, pass legislation making the entire state vegan, and leave everyone else alone. More seriously, I believe they will be shunned as social pariahs, and their days of leading politicians and designer brands by the nose will be over.
The game they are playing now is a double-edged sword. Their bullying tactics are currently quite effective in bringing about change, but as they expand their net to include everything from marine parks to fish burgers, and pets to carriage horses – which they are doing right now – they will make more and more enemies. By 2100, and probably long before, society at large will say, “Enough is enough!”
Question: What does a certified trapper in the modern era do with a lifetime of skills and experience developed in… Read More
Question: What does a certified trapper in the modern era do with a lifetime of skills and experience developed in dealing with wildlife? Answer: Help society deal with wildlife conflicts. The market for wild furs right now is not robust, but modern society as a whole needs the skill set of a certified trapper. In fact, without a healthy, economically viable fur market that uses the excess from renewable furbearer populations, society needs us more than ever. How well-equipped is the average homeowner in dealing with wildlife conflicts in a safe, respectful, humane manner?
Understand that more than 80% of the population now live in cities, and know very little about how to deal with wildlife in their backyard or homes. Meanwhile, today's urban design, with green spaces and our love for large trees, allows wildlife to flourish in the urban environment.
It is easy for city dwellers to be dismissive of a trapper's skill set until they have an uninvited guest take up residence in their home. A raccoon may move into their chimney, a squirrel starts chewing into their soffit, a mink raids their koi pond, or, heaven forbid, a black bear raids their garbage. These are success stories for today's wildlife populations, but with them comes the need for trappers.
"What's Your Plan Now?"
The call came in as a referral from my son’s boss – his girlfriend had a skunk under her deck. I immediately asked myself, “Has she already tried to catch it?"My gut feeling was that this was going to be a challenge. Most folks try to deal with problem wildlife first before calling for help, and dealing with a skunk becomes a whole other game when the walking time-bomb goes off.
The problem is that every hardware store, feed store and garden supply outlet sells live traps, giving you the impression that you can do it yourself (DIY). They do little to educate buyers on how to properly use them, what the laws are, or what to do with a live animal once it is in the trap.I call it the “What’s your plan now?" situation.
I receive a text asking for help, with a contact name and number. I know right away that this problem has escalated and the person needs my assistance. I call and arrange a site visit, and also ask some questions to screen the customer. How long has this been going on? Has she seen any animals in the backyard, and what has she done to try and catch them already?
Perfect Urban Habitat
I arrive early to the appointment to scope out the neighbourhood for potential problems. The house is well-kept in a nice residential area. I see a free-ranging cat in the yard and numerous dog tracks, along with mature trees and grey squirrels. It is mid-March with two feet of snow. The temperature is above freezing during the day but well below zero at night. I quickly surmise that this is a typical mature suburban neighborhood with numerous backyard sheds – perfect urban habitat for skunks and raccoons.
I am a seasoned registered trapline trapper here to offer my skills in dealing with an urban wildlife problem. As I look around I wonder what role I am going to be able to play here. I can see as many pitfalls as I can solutions, with many that could end badly for my efforts. But then I remind myself that like a plumber or an electrician, I have a unique skill set that can help people, developed over 42 years' of experience in a world that is moving ever further away from hands-on contact with wildlife.
My knock on the door is answered by the lady of the house. I do my best to listen to her concerns, and sense she is frustrated and leery at the same time. I hand her my business card and tell her I can help.I ask to see the problem area and, more importantly, what has been done to discourage or capture the problem already. I am praying I get honest answers so I know what I am up against. I ask, “Have you been looking up solutions on the Internet?” “Yes,” she tells me, so my next question is, “Have you bought live traps already and tried to catch the skunk?” Again, "yes" is her answer. We are off to a good start.
Together we do a site inspection. A large wrap-around deck covers almost the full length of the back of the house – a nice new deck, well-built out of pressure-treated lumber. Upon closer inspection I see animal tracks coming and going from under the deck. Using my large, intense spotlight, I see a hole in the foundation where there was an addition to the house and all the tracks leading to this point of access. As we discuss the problem, I learn that the skunk has sprayed and the house sometimes has an odor. There's nothing like the smell of skunk quill to get a person’s attention.
Squirting in Breeding Season
Striped skunks breed from February to March. If the female is not in the mood yet, she will squirt a little quill to repel the courting male or males.Skunks are not true hibernators but are less active in the winter, mainly sleeping in their dens waiting for warmer days. Nocturnal by nature, they spend most of their day sleeping, venturing out mainly at night. This is one of the reasons they thrive in urban environments. Breeding season was the reason for the skunk smell in the house and the main reason I received the call for help.
As I survey the site I count five trails that the skunk or skunks are using to access the den, plus a set of raccoon tracks. Striped skunks use old barns and utility sheds as den locations, and a favourite is under decks or porches. Sometimes they form communal sites with as many as 13 being recorded in one den.During the breeding season males travel up to 5 km looking for love.
Another animal I am often asked to deal with are groundhogs. I mention this because groundhogs are diggers by nature., and the holes and dens they make are often used by raccoons and skunks. I call them a gateway species; the groundhog builds the den that everyone else will use. It is important to deal with groundhogs for this reason.
After my assessment I offer my services to help. I know this will not be an easy job and that I am dealing with more than one animal that may have already been educated. I will have to dig into my years of experience to come up with a solution that will help the homeowner and respect the animals.
I will need roughly seven live traps of various designs to deal with the task. We have laws in Ontario that help respect the animals we live-trap: #1 we must check our live traps every 24 hours, and #2 we can only move live-caught animals 1 km from the capture site.As a personal rule, I try and check my live traps for skunks and raccoons at dawn since they are nocturnal and become stressed if not in their dens in daylight. I also am careful not to place traps in direct sunlight on hot days, again out of respect for the targeted animals.
Sardines Won't Cut It!
Because of the potential non-target animals roaming the neighborhood (dogs and cats), I use different types of baits and professional ADC (animal damage control) lures that are specific to skunks and raccoons. A can of sardines is not going to cut it! Also, since the animals could have already been exposed to a live trap and educated, I use double-door live traps, along with my poly-type live traps – specialized traps to do a safe, efficient job.
Skunks are known to carry rabies, a fatal disease for humans, and also are susceptible to distemper which can kill cats and dogs. Since I handle skunks on a regular basis, I already have my rabies vaccine as a preventive measure.Ontario is dealing with a rabies outbreak right now in the Hamilton area. Please make sure your pets are vaccinated against this deadly disease.
After a week of trapping I removed three skunks and one raccoon. The last skunk I caught was in a double-door wire-cage live trap and it did its utmost best to spray me. Thankfully, having the proper training, I was able to safely remove the trap and skunk without it spraying. It sure would have ruined everyone’s day had it released under the deck.
The skunks were gone and the house was back to normal.To prevent future problems, I recommended a dig guard be installed around the deck.A dig guard is what we call exclusion work and has to be properly installed to work.
Call a Certified Trapper
Thinking back on my training with the National Wildlife Control Operators Association, I realize how important it was that I invested time and money in additional training on dealing with the ever-expanding wildlife conflicts we face today. Knowing how to safely handle wildlife, provide inspections, and offer preventive solutions to wildlife conflicts allows me to help people.
You would not ask a lawyer to fix your plumbing, just as you would not ask a plumber to represent you in court. So it's important for folks to know whom to call when they have wildlife conflicts, and it's not your neighbor’s brother’s cousin who doesn’t have a clue to the potential problems and pitfalls. Remember what I said at the start: once you catch a skunk, what’s your plan?
My suggestion is to call a certified trapper with wildlife control training and the skill set to deal with wildlife conflicts in a safe, humane manner. The trapper should also have a business card and insurance, offer inspections, and, most importantly, provide preventive measures after the removal is complete.
A strong fur market, that utilizes healthy, well-managed furbearer populations helps keep animal populations in check with the environment. But if the fur trade were to stop tomorrow, don’t be fooled into thinking animals would not have to be managed. Regulated, science-based trapping as practiced today in North America is a positive for society.
It’s just a theory, but one explanation why Britain is the spiritual home of animal rights activism – and of… Read More
It's just a theory, but one explanation why Britain is the spiritual home of animal rights activism – and of opposition to fur – is that it exterminated all its large, dangerous animals long ago. North America, in contrast, still presents many opportunities to get mauled or even eaten, with one animal in particular, the coyote, now making its presence felt even in inner cities. Will this increasing exposure to a large scavenger-cum-predator shape the animal rights debate – and attitudes towards fur – in the years ahead?
Bears have been extinct in Britain for about 1,000 years, while wolves probably vanished by the late 18th century. The worst that might happen to you on a stroll in the countryside is to get bitten by an adder, the country's only poisonous snake, but bites are very rarely fatal. And the country is rabies-free. In the cities, if you're unlucky, a pigeon or seagull might poop on you.
So it's easy for the British to be somewhat glib about the dangers of wildlife. Yes, it's sad that tigers eat Indians, but they (the tigers) must be saved for future generations to admire!
In North America, of course, the story is different. Life in rural areas often means sharing space with wolves, bears, cougars, rattlesnakes and rabid raccoons. And life anywhere now can involve facing down a pack of pet-eating, human-biting coyotes. When it's your own kids' lives on the line – as any Indian living next to a tiger reserve will tell you – your view of wildlife may be very un-British!
Coyote attacks on humans are still rare compared with attacks by domestic dogs, reported The Economist in 2013, and only two fatal attacks have ever been confirmed: 3-year-old Kelly Keen in 1981, in Glendale, California, and 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell in 2009, in Nova Scotia.
But aggressive altercations are increasing as so-called "urban coyotes" move in to city centres and lose their fear of humans. "Around 2,000 coyotes are reckoned to live in Chicago and its suburbs," said The Economist, "and it seems likely that the animal is thriving in many other built-up parts of the country. Once restricted to the south-western United States, it spread across the continent during the 20th century and more recently made its way into large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Boston and even New York."
It's a sweeping generalisation, but let's say that our views on wildlife reflect where we live. People born and raised in Montana don't love nature in the same way people from Manhattan do. Rural folk tend to have a more utilitarian view of wildlife; they can wonder at its beauty at the same time as seeing it as a source of food and clothing, or simply as a pest. City-dwellers are more prone to Bambi syndrome, seeing wildlife as innocent, wide-eyed creatures, peacefully going about their daily existence. When you have little real contact with nature, you can imagine it's Disneyland.
So it's hardly surprising that there are differing views about coyotes. For rural folk, coyotes have little going for them. They lack all the glamour of wolves, eat livestock and pets, stink, taste foul, and carry rabies. About the only good thing going for coyotes is that – when their fur is prime – they make a great coat. For many rural folk, the only good coyote is a dead coyote.
Many city dwellers, though, tend to equate coyotes with domestic dogs, even to the point of putting food out for them (despite repeated warnings that this is an extremely bad idea).
These opposing points of view are both valid, but one thing we can all hopefully agree on is that, even if coyotes are not our favourite animal, they're still God's creatures and should be respected accordingly. That can mean many things, from trapping them humanely to trying to coexist with them.
But here's the thing: even the most ardent fan of coyotes will likely become a coyote-hater the minute one tears Fido to pieces or, heaven forbid, drags off their child.
Curiously (to this author at least), this change in attitude is not automatic for everyone. When Taylor Mitchell was mauled to death by coyotes while jogging through a riverside park, her mother issued a statement asking that the animals be spared. "We take a calculated risk when spending time in nature’s fold — it’s the wildlife's terrain," she wrote. "When the decision had been made to kill the pack of coyotes, I clearly heard Taylor’s voice say, 'Please don’t, this is their space.' She wouldn’t have wanted their demise, especially as a result of her own."
Still, I'm going to stick my neck out and say Taylor's mum's reaction was highly unusual. Most parents in her situation would have said, "To hell with coyote rights. Nuke 'em!"
Coyotes and Fur
Last November, Toronto-based Canada Goose, purveyor of coyote-trimmed parkas, took a bold step and opened a flagship store on Regent Street in central London. Presumably the decision to set up shop in the heartland of animal rights was based on the fact that many shoppers here are foreign tourists, because it can't have come as a surprise when local activists started protesting.
Time will tell how this venture works out, but Canada Goose won't be getting any PR help from indigenous wildlife. If some large predators show up in nearby Hyde Park to attack pet dogs, the conversation might change, but that won't happen because Britain has no large predators.
But in North America, of course, that's exactly what is happening. Urban coyote conflicts are now regular events, and that can be expected to change attitudes towards wildlife, but will it also change attitudes in other ways? Just as a new tuberculosis or whooping cough epidemic does wonders for vaccination campaigns, will the surge in coyote attacks on pets and people increase public appreciation for the benefits of regulated trapping – and the sustainable use of fur?
The danger, of course, is that if children are killed, there will be calls for coyotes to be exterminated. Public hysteria could even result in their total removal from the landscape, like British bears and wolves.
The optimal outcome is that urban coyotes open the eyes of city-dwellers to a side of wildlife that has nothing to do with Bambi. A new and more realistic understanding of wildlife will include the realisation that wild animals must sometimes be culled, and if that happens, it's only ethical to use them for food or fur.
City-dwellers will finally get why rural folk don't feed the bears but instead turn them into fine eating and a bearskin rug. Perhaps they'll also get that wearing a coyote-trimmed parka is not "like wearing your pet dog", as animal activists like to claim, but about protecting your pets – and your kids.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance is a US organisation that protects the outdoor heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting in all… Read More
The Sportsmen’s Alliance is a US organisation that protects the outdoor heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting in all 50 states. Between fighting in the courts, political lobbying, and countering campaigns by animal activists, they are kept busy. We talked to Vice President Marketing and Communications Brian Lynn about trappers, hipsters and sound bytes.
Alexandra: What percentage of your members are trappers versus hunters and fishermen?
Brian: I’d say somewhere between 10 and 20%. It’s not a huge number, but the trappers are the most active, passionate, and engaged audience there is.
Alexandra: Interesting you say that, because we think that too.
Brian: Trappers are the ones on the front lines. They are constantly under attack.
Alexandra: Are you referring to the amount of legislation that people are trying to put into place to try and ban trapping?
Brian: Yes. Animal rights organisations, legislation, the ballot box – trappers are constantly under attack. Whether it is changing the seasons, eliminating the seasons, or regulating traps, they are getting hammered left and right.
Alexandra: Do you think that trappers are getting attacked more because they are fewer in number? Or perhaps because in the US hunting is more associated with a weekend pastime?
Brian: It is both. There aren’t as many trappers, so it is more of a fringe endeavour. Also it lacks the idea of a sport – of you versus the animal. To the uninitiated, it just seems like you are going out there, putting some bait out, and whether a wolf, bobcat, bear, or your dog comes along, they get snapped up and killed cruelly. It looks barbaric, and it is a hard sell for us to protect. It is an easier sell to misrepresent. People already are ignorant about it; urban people are like, “You do what?” It is a harder thing to protect because of the ignorance, and it lacks the perception of sport and the “you versus the animal.”
Active or Passive Management
Alexandra: It's interesting how urban folk don’t mind trapping when there’s a coyote eating their cats, or beavers flooding their home.
Brian: That’s the whole thing. People say, “This doesn’t seem fair, that doesn’t sound right,” until it impacts them. Once the deer come in and start eating their petunias, now they're mad. Or they're hitting deer with their car. Now they want something done. Don't kill the bears until the bears start eating your kids. It boils down to active management versus passive management.
We did a piece on defensive trapping a couple of months ago in our newsletter, and without trapping, state agencies will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on trapping nuisance animals and flooding. Nobody understands that until it happens. The animal rights activists try to couch it as, “We don't need to manage populations." They try to pass off the Disney idea that “nature will balance itself”, which never really happens. But even they are saying passive management is ok. When the mountain lion becomes overpopulated and one starts eating their cats, then it's ok for the state to come in and kill that one lion. Well, it costs a ton of money, and it's not fixing the problem. With active management, you are mitigating the booms and busts and managing them actively with hunting and trapping. The animal rights groups just want to let everything go wild, and passively manage it when it becomes an issue with humans, which is just not going to work because we see disease, starvation, plus human-wildlife conflicts.
Alexandra: What are some of the biggest issues that you are dealing with right now, and have the kinds of issues evolved much over the past 20 years?
Brian: They go in waves and trends. In the 1980s, animal rights groups went after bow hunting, in the ’90s they went for mountain lions and some bear-hunting tactics. Last year we saw a lot of dog-related activity: kenneling, breeding, selling legislation. A lot of it is aimed at puppy mills, but if enforced to the letter of the law, it will stop hound hunting, kenneling, or selling those dogs.
We also saw a lot of apex predator issues – black bears and wolves. And now we are seeing them setting the table to come back for more of what they attacked in the ’90s - black bears and mountain lions in the west, and the Great Lakes wolves.
They hit something hard, in multiple states, for a couple of years, then let it rest. They let the social consciousness of the non-hunters absorb it a bit, they’ve made it an issue. Then they let their fundraising base rest, then come back and hammer it again several years later. It makes for a better news story again. Then it seems like a big issue that keeps coming out so they can get more funding, and it psychologically resounds with the public. “Oh, this is an issue, we need to do something about this!”
Great Lakes Wolves, Maine Bears
Alexandra: What are some of the activities that you do to fight the activists, and which campaigns have been successful?
Brian: Right now we are the lead on the Great Lakes wolves lawsuit. It is the Humane Society of the United States vs. the Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Department of the Interior, and the State of Wisconsin. So that is one we have been fighting for several years, and that should be moving through the court system, and we are appealing the last decision that was made in December 2014.
One of our more successful campaigns was the Maine Bear Ballot issue in 2014. The HSUS decided to go after bear hunting in Maine and hired a California firm to collect signatures and force it onto the ballot. The HSUS just self-funded the whole thing. If that had been successful, it would have basically put an end to bear hunting in Maine. It would have removed the use of traps, bait, and hounds to hunt bears, and that is 93% of the harvest. We went in, organised the grass roots groups, bought air time, created the messaging, and we ended up beating them by 8 points. And there was a couple of lawsuits out of that, that we fought and were successful in. We were successful all the way around and have a good base set up to protect it again, should they come back, and they have stated they are coming back again to stop it.
The thought is that they will just go after hounds and traps, because few people use these, so most people don’t care. This is when we get into apathy within our own ranks. If HSUS removes 85% of its opposition and 85% of its opposition’s funding, those who remain make easier targets.
"Sticking Up for One Another"
Alexandra: Some graphics in your social media send a message about uniting hunters, fishermen and trappers. What is the thinking here?
Brian: We need to be sticking up for one another, despite method of take. Even if you don’t participate in trapping and you don’t use bait, we can’t stand around and say, “That’s doesn’t affect me.” Once hound hunting falls, once bait hunting falls, once trapping falls, they are coming after what you do want to do. We need to be united regardless of how we are participating in these activities.
Alexandra: What percentage of Americans do you believe support hunting, trapping and fishing, and how many are opposed?
Brian: Hunters and anti-hunters are about the same size, 5-10% of the population. And all of the polls show that 75-80% of the general public support hunting as a management tool. That’s great. But the problem is that all that support goes right out the window as soon as emotion gets into it. People's minds are changed really quickly if they are shown an animal flopping around in a trap or a dead trophy shot. We move from the logical “That makes sense, I support hunting,” to the emotional “Oh, but I don't support it in this instance. It seems cruel.”
The other side can just throw words around like “slaughter” and sway those non-hunting voters.
Our biggest challenge is telling our story, why we have to do it, why it makes things better, the funding of conservation, managing populations, habitat, carrying capacity of the land. That’s a long story which can be boring if you aren’t into it, and if there is legislation or a ballot initiative, and a news anchor puts a microphone in your face and you try and explain carrying capacity of the land and funding of conservation, it is long, boring, and not sound-byte stuff. Then they ask the other side why we need to stop it and they say, “It's cruel, they are slaughtering animals with babies.” There’s your sound byte.
"Hipster Deal Big Move Forward"
Alexandra: Have the demographics of your supporters and members changed? There is a hipster trend now, with people doing things themselves, growing their own food and maybe hunting. They were traditionally more on the left of the political spectrum, whereas hunters tend to be on the conservative side. Do you see this new demographic supporting outdoor activities?
Brian: We are seeing a bit of a bump, which is great from a branding and messaging perspective. This is important for the hunting and trapping industry in general, but here at the Sportsmen’s Alliance we are very engaged, political, more hardcore. The new people coming in are a more holistic type of person, who may not be political.
For the broader industry, though, the whole hipster deal has been good. From the perspective of acceptance within the mainstream, those people are sharing with other people, within city life. It is about taking responsibility for their food, and them relaying their message in a way that their friends can understand. That’s where I see it as being the biggest move forward for the industry. How do you reach someone in LA? We aren't going to reach some hipster in LA, but some guy at an LA party who went out, harvested his own food and killed a deer, that is going to do more good than anything we are doing as an industry to disseminate the proper message.
Alexandra: Do you cooperate with a Canadian counterpart?
Brian: There is some run-over, but nothing official. In Maine, we are involved in two lawsuits on trapping Canadian lynx. In Maine, Canadian lynx are on the Endangered Species List, but north of the border they are not.
There are incidental take permits, and a certain number of Canadian lynx can be caught in traps without the trapper or the state being in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The HSUS is trying to stop that; they are trying to get the incidental take permits revoked. If they succeed, that would mean that anywhere there is an endangered species of any kind, trapping can be stopped. If you take it a step further, anywhere there is an endangered fish in a river, you could apply the same logic. You can’t fully control what steps into a trap, therefore you can’t trap anywhere there is an endangered species, just like you can’t always control what is going to bite your hook, therefore no one can fish anywhere there is an endangered fish. So that’s a lawsuit we are involved in in Maine.
"Educate Those Not Within Your Group"
Alexandra: Is there any advice you have for trappers about protecting their rights, proactively?
Brian: They need to educate non-trappers about what they do: about how trapping is regulated, how hard it is, what you do to prevent non-target by-catch. People need to understand that, and it is not the people that are already in your social groups, it needs to be the non-trapper or the hunter that doesn’t understand it, so you can help eliminate that issue of hunters not caring. For example, there are a lot of bird dog hunters that hate trapping because traps will be out during grouse season and they are worried their dogs might get snagged up in them. We need to try and educate those people. It is all about educating those not within your group.
As for state and provincial organisations, they need to start collecting funds and putting these aside. This is something we are saying in Maine, start a war chest, because the attack is coming, it is just a matter of time. The HSUS is so rich they can self-fund any campaign they want to. They are a $130-150 million a year organisation, so they can just decide “this is where we are going to go, and we will spend $3 million.” If HSUS comes and you sit there fundraising for the first six months, that's a six-month head start they have in swaying public opinion. If you can hit the ground running, and you already have a war chest, you are better off. That’s hard for groups to do, though, because unless there is a bogeyman right there, those funds start to look very attractive to dip into and use for other things.
Alexandra: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us!
For further reading, check out this great Sportsmen's Alliance content:
The morning started just like any other during my fall trapping season this past November. I fumbled about as I awoke… Read More
The morning started just like any other during my fall trapping season this past November. I fumbled about as I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock just before sunrise. I didn’t really want to get up; I had spent several hours in the fur shed the night before, processing otter and beaver hides and, frankly, I felt as if I had just put my head on the pillow. So goes the life of the modern trapper.
The majority of trappers in the “lower 48” nowadays are part-time fur harvesters, holding down regular day jobs while juggling activities like fur trapping. We bare the same grit as the long-line mountain men of the northern wilderness, but return to civilization after running the trapline. If you work hard enough, chances are pretty good you could make a mortgage payment with the stack of fur pelts harvested at the end of the season. Some years, when the fur market is down, you’re lucky to recoup your cost for fuel and supplies. I harvest a modest and diverse collection of prime pelts each season, and rather than send to the overseas fur markets, I sell tanned finished pelts locally in the form of crafts, garments like mittens and hats, or as unaltered skins ready for locals to make their own natural garments out of. Most modern trappers aren’t in it solely for a few extra bucks – conservation, heritage, family-tradition, exercise, insight, an escape outside, take your pick; there’s millions of reasons why modern trapping is alive and well in North America. We’re not quite Hugh Glass material, but we sure aren’t “flatlanders” either!
Senses on High Alert
With the alarm clock still buzzing, and before my conscious self could protest, I found myself already in yesterday’s pair of flannel-lined jeans, and in my truck. The drive down off the hill and into the valley is a ride I know all too well, especially during trapping season. I arrived at my first chunk of land on the trapline; a winding maze of hills, valleys, brush, and swampland carved into the side of a southern New Hampshire mountain range. I strapped on my hip-waders and slid my arms through the damp Alice pack filled with trapping supplies as I follow my bushwhacked trail through the dense Alder brush. I trekked into the still and dense forest as the sun began to break, putting a slight end to the constant hum of the pitch-black hillside.
The sights, the sounds, and the smells put my senses on high alert. What I see, touch, feel, and experience, you can’t acquire on a simple weekend hike through the woods on a walking trail. It’s something that can only be experienced when you fully immerse yourself into your natural environment and fulfill the role as a fixture of that environment, rather than a visitor. It’s real, raw, and organic, and it’s something only another trapper can fully understand. As I walked the same stretch of stream bank I’ve walked for the last thirty days, I stopped to take notice of a fresh mound of mud and stream debris piled high in a stumpy pile on the bank. It was clear these were fresh territorial markings from a beaver - markings that were not present during the previous day’s trek.
Suspicions are confirmed as I come upon my first trap lying on the river bottom, with a prime beaver lying motionless in the 330 Conibear trap’s strong and efficient grip. I take a moment with every creature I trap to reflect. I study the animal from top to bottom, noting any odd characteristics to its appearance. I give a brief "thanks" to the forest, reset the trap, and stash my gift from the woods on the river bank to be picked up on the return trip. Two beaver would be hauled out that morning and I would readily admit there are some days I get pretty tired of hauling 60 to 120 pounds of dead weight up the brushy hillside. The cycle repeats itself every morning before I head to my job back in civilization.
No "Wait Until the Weekend"
The day’s catch is left on the cool floor of my garage, as I get changed and suited up to start my workday. I return home in the evening to skin and process the furbearers I trapped that morning. There’s no "wait until the weekend" when it comes to trapping. Your catch must be handled quickly to keep up with the season’s demands. The animals are skinned and the hides are fleshed, stretched and dried. I remove any edible meat, useful bones, and glands from the remaining carcass. I take a moment to envision the usage for each pelt; which ones will make mittens, and which ones are better suited for blankets or hats. Some pelts may provide relief for a mortgage payment, and others may pay for fuel during the long Northeast winter.
This is the life of many trappers – cut from the same loins as the Alaskan and Canadian fur trappers of the uncharted lands, except our trade is carried out on the fringes of modern society and civilization. For many of us, the lifestyles of characters like Jeremiah Johnson and Hugh Glass are a prideful glimpse into a simpler time in America’s history. I consider myself fairly self-reliant by today’s standards. I’ll admit however, I’m far from the homesteading mountain men of the far north that so many of us envision. It’s the duality of being able to run a wilderness trap-line, brave the harshest of natural elements, and work a full-time job afterwards that I think makes the modern trapper such an interesting element in today’s overworked society.
The majority of my trap-line is carved along borderlines of modern metropolitan areas. The modern trapper utilizes culverts and freeway bridges to our advantage, stacking up catches that would make any 1800’s pioneer blush. Much like the furbearers we seek, we have adapted and learned to co-exist with modern society nipping at our heels. We stubbornly cling to traditions passed on from generation to generation. I find immense beauty in the fact that I can harvest my fair share of otter and fisher in the undisturbed wild mountains, and, in the next breath, head 25 minutes east and stack up a modest catch of muskrat and mink from the spillways behind the local strip-malls.
When I was younger, I scoffed at the idea of running an “urban trap-line”. I always felt wild critters could only be caught in wild places, well off the beaten path. Raccoons and opossums are synonymous with the urban setting, but in the early years, my naive thought process pictured most critters to be bound to the remote stretches of New Hampshire. For years I always sought the darkest, thickest hillsides I could find in my area. It wasn’t until I dove head-first into the world of Wildlife Damage Control that I realized just how close these creatures lived to the human populous; or should I say, how close humans live to them.
First Line of Reporting
I’m often told trapping has no place in the modern world, and I need to “evolve”. Some say it’s antiquated, outdated and obsolete. I would argue that despite public perception, few people champion our wildlife and wild resources more than the modern fur trapper. Not only are we fully vested and immersed in our natural world, but we are also the first line of reporting and observation for all aspects of furbearer biology and general wildlife conservation. We are the first to feel and report dramatic population decline, disease, and environmental issues affecting furbearing species of wildlife that would be otherwise overlooked. For example, muskrat and weasels are not typically at the forefront of yearly headcounts by biologists, and until these animals start disappearing from the landscape, there wouldn’t be any checks or balances for their overall population health if it were not for the reporting and harvest by the modern trapper. Any unbiased furbearer biologist will tell you trapping plays an important role in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation; this is fact.
Public Perception Problem
Public perception has certainly taken its toll on the modern trapper. Somewhere down the line of American evolution, we began to set social norms for what was deemed "okay" for harvesting our nation’s natural resources. Killing for food, for instance, is generally socially tolerated, while taking an animal’s life for a beneficial garment is somehow deemed "selfish" or "greedy". At some point, we seemed to lose the bearings of our moral compass, shaming perceived “luxury items” like fur garments as “materialistic” while we wait in line for the latest and greatest smart-phone or sports car. Here in North America, super PACs and politicians spend billions of dollars in an attempt to outright ban activities such as trapping, all the while turning their backs to the millions (yes, millions) of wild animals wasted daily on our nation’s roadways. The acts of modern regulated hunting and trapping will never hold a candle to the immense suffering man’s inadvertent progression has placed upon our fragile wildlife species. Deforestation, housing development, pollution, infrastructure, and rapid population growth all take their toll on wildlife. What’s rarely reported in the media or brought up in debates is the trapper’s ever-watchful eye over our natural resources. Our tools have also evolved with ethical and humane treatment being the primary focus.
As modern trappers, we will continue to do what we know and believe to be right, and support managing our natural resources with moral wisdom. We’ll set our traps for pelts, and assume our role in modern wildlife conservation. The fur trapper lives in a modern world, and we must constantly fight being totally forgotten by our own kind. As our society continues to redefine itself, more people seem to be seeking to move further away from the daily grind and closer to the land, and I hope the interest in trapping and the understanding of its immense value will continue to grow. If the modern trapper’s solitary watch were to be removed from our woods, North America’s natural beauty would certainly lose another layer of defense against our own industrialization.
Ontario trappers have launched an exciting new campaign to inform the public about how they protect people and property by responsibly managing… Read More
Ontario trappers have launched an exciting new campaign to inform the public about how they protect people and property by responsibly managing wildlife populations.
“We are trying to reach that 80% of the population that simply does not know what we do or why and how we do it,” says Robin Horwath, General Manager of the Ontario Fur Managers Federation (OFMF).
OFMF’s posters carry a bold headline stating that, "Trappers Manage Wildlife While Protecting People!" This message is accompanied by three large photos of forest land under water and a road closed by beaver flooding.
For more information, the posters direct people to the Ontario Fur Managers’ website at www.Furmanagers.com.
The campaign over Christmas featured large posters in two major Ontario malls, one in Ottawa’s Bayshore mall and one in Toronto’s The Path mall. In March, the campaign will shift to street-level advertising in Toronto and ads on six Ottawa buses.
“Last year, I saw some street-level info ads about the oil sands and I thought: that’s what we’ve got to do; we’ve got to get out there and tell our own story!”
“People are intelligent, but they can’t make the right decisions if we don’t give them the facts,” says Horwath.
Of course, a few posters will not change the world on their own, at least not immediately. But imagine if trappers’ councils across North America did the same thing!
When I started trapping in 1959, it was a lot easier than it is now. Oh, sure, there’s more information… Read More
When I started trapping in 1959, it was a lot easier than it is now. Oh, sure, there’s more information and better equipment available these days, but it’s a lot more difficult to actually start trapping today than it was a half century ago.
Urbanization is one reason. The population of the United States has shifted from predominantly rural to predominantly urban, and fewer kids (adults, too, for that matter) live close enough to trapping country to make it work. I was a town kid too, but it was a small town, and my bike could get me beyond the city limits in five minutes. That’s often not the case today, and even where it is, today’s world isn’t the one I grew up in. Turning a kid loose on a bicycle before daylight isn’t such a wise idea in many areas.
Also, there’s the change in public attitude about hunting, fishing and trapping in general. According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, in my home state of Arkansas, which is less urban than many, only 301,000 residents hunted that year. That’s about 12 percent of the population. Trapping is included with hunting, and I’d be very surprised if 5 percent of those 301,000 folks trapped, but for argument’s sake, let’s say they did. That gives us a total of 15,050 trappers in my state, at most. There’s probably considerably less.
The situation is much the same elsewhere. When the percentage of active trappers is that low, it’s hard for somebody who wants to learn more about trapping to find anyone with similar interests. And when you can’t find anyone who shares your interest in something, guess what usually happens? Yep, your interest wanes, too, because it’s not much fun unless you can share it with someone.
Some Are Rookies, Some Trapped When Younger
That’s where us gray-whiskered veterans come in. Thirty years ago, I didn’t really have time to take someone under my wing on the trapline. I was pedal to the metal from Day 1 to Day Last, catching as many animals as I possibly could, because I had a houseful of kids and a dollar bill looked as big as a saddle blanket. Simply put, I couldn’t afford to take the time to help a rookie get started.
But now that’s not the case. I’m far from rich, but the crushing financial pressure is gone, and for Bill and me, the trapline is a more leisurely thing. Don’t misunderstand though. We still work hard, and we put up decent numbers for a couple of geezers, but neither of us is out there because our kids need shoes. And so we take interested folks on our line from time to time. Some are rookies just getting started, some are middle-aged guys who trapped when they were younger, and some are men and women who’ve never held a trap in their hands but want to see what it’s all about.
The days when we have guests on the line are among the most enjoyable of the season. We usually don’t get as much done, because we’re answering questions and showing our guests what we’re doing and why. It slows us down, but we both enjoy it and are more than glad to do it. We’ve never discussed it much, but I think the reason Bill and I both enjoy having guests is that we’re helping promote trapping to non-trappers, either by helping a newbie get started or by showing a non-trapper first-hand that we’re not the bloody-handed barbarians the PETA folks make us out to be.
If you’ve never taken a kid, a beginning trapper or an interested non-trapper on your line, I recommend it. Not only will you enjoy it, but you’ll also be helping the cause.