is a professional trapper based in north-western Alberta. He is a leading predator-control expert, and is often hired by sheep and cattle ranchers to protect their herds from problem wolves. A board member of the Fur Institute of Canada, Gordy also leads advanced-level trapper training courses, to teach the most humane and effective conservation techniques.
TruthAboutFur: How did you become a trapper?
Gordy Klassen: Although I was raised on a small farm homestead, there weren’t trappers in my immediate family, but I was always drawn to be in the bush. From quite young, trapping was a way for me to spend time alone in the woods and to make my own decisions.
TaF: What does trapping mean to you?
GK:To me, trapping is life itself. I know it may be hard for some people to understand, but all my physical and mental strength – my sense of spiritual communion – that all comes from the land and from the time I spend in the bush.
TaF: What does a trapper do on a typical day?
GK:When I am at my cabin, I am up early. I drink a coffee and clean the furs I collected the previous day. Then, breakfast, and out onto my trapline. I will be in the bush all day, from 8:30 or 9 in the morning until 7:30, 8 or 9 at night. I bring a thermos of tea with me and that’s all I’ll have all day. No other food – although I have emergency supplies -- and for the last hours I will be working with a headlamp. When I get back to the cabin, I take my equipment off the snowmobile, bring in the furs to thaw, and hang up my clothes to dry. Then I prepare supper, relax a bit, and early to bed to get ready for another wonderful day on the land!
TaF: Do we need to trap?
GK:Trapping is essential for a whole range of reasons. Trappers are on the front line of disease control. We also control predator populations to protect livestock, or beaver populations to protect natural habitat, roads and property. We provide information to the biologists about what’s really happening on the land. And we help to maintain a balance by removing wildlife surpluses at no cost to taxpayers, while making our own living.
TaF: Is trapping cruel?
GK:Anytime we are dealing with death, you could say there is some cruelty. However, our new trapping methods ensure that the animals we take are dispatched within 120-300 seconds. For live-holding devices, there are trap-check regulations to ensure the animals are euthanized quickly. I think we have to give a lot of credit to the trappers and animal-welfare people who worked so hard over the past thirty years to implement the scientific research and certification programs that have made trapping so much more efficient and humane.
Taf: Do trappers need any special training before they receive their trapping permits?
GK:In Alberta, like in most of North America, trappers must complete 20 hours of training to get their permits; they learn management techniques and conservation ethics and how to use the new, humane trapping methods. And then training continues, with various upgrades and specialized courses. I teach advanced trapping methods, focusing on specific species or habitats.
TaF: Isn’t there a danger that trapping will drive some species into extinction?
GK:That’s virtually impossible today, with government monitoring and modern trapping regulations. We are not just controlling trapping, we are now actively managing wildlife populations, smoothing out natural “boom and bust” cycles, keeping populations at levels that assure they are healthy and abundant.
TaF: What do you say to people who claim that “we don’t need trapping, because nature will take care of itself...” ?
GK:That sort of attitude is based on the false assumption that there is “balance” in Nature. It’s not true. Nature often produces extreme cycles: prey species can overpopulated dramatically and then they crash, and the predators that depend upon them crash too. Beavers can eat through whole areas and then there will be no beaver at all for many years. A harsh climate or a hard winter can help bring species into balance, but good wildlife management can really smooth out the cycles, helping to maintain stable and healthy populations at levels the habitat can support. And if animal welfare is a concern, there is no question that modern trapping methods are far more humane than nature’s ways. A fox or coyote with sarcoptic mange will rub itself raw for weeks before dying. Natural, for sure, but not something you want to see.
TaF: If animals are taken in live-holding traps, how are they killed?
GK:In Canada, most animals are now taken with quick-killing traps or sets. The larger predators that we still take in live-holding devices (e.g., coyotes, wolves, foxes, lynx) are quickly dispatched with a firearm. I should also mention that the new live-holding devices are not the old steel-toothed traps; those are now seen only in museums or in activist publications. New live-holding traps are designed to cause little or no injuries – which is why they can be used by biologists to capture and release animals unharmed, with radio collars (for research) or for re-introduction into regions where they were previously extirpated.
TaF: Would you encourage young people to take up trapping?
GK:Absolutely! Trapping is one of the best ways to really be connected with nature. A good trapper sees everything. I have 16 mammalian species on my land, but I am also always studying the grasses, seeds and berries – these are the basic food sources that feed the mice and rabbits on which the foxes and coyotes depend. As a trapper, you are conscious of managing the whole ecosystem. It’s a way to really become part of your natural environment. With fur prices rising, there is an opportunity for young people to get involved. And you don’t have to be born in the country to trap; some of our very best trappers were raised in the city. All you need is a passion for nature!
TaF: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about trapping?
GK:I would like people to understand that trappers are the front-line defenders of human and animal health; we are the ones working to maintain a balance between wildlife and natural habitat and human activities. There are real problems that won’t go away just because some activists want to pretend that nature is Disneyland. There’s a real need to prevent the overpopulation of species that can spread rabies and other diseases, or that can damage habitat or property (beavers) or destroy livestock or endangered species (foxes, wolves, coyotes). There will always be a need for trapping, even if we didn’t use fur. So the real discussion should not be whether to trap, but how to do it well!
To learn more about Gordy Klassen, visit his website, Trapper Gord