Sustainable Trapping: A Record of Sustainability

Where are we going?

With the almost infinite and wonderful benefits that oil, gas and the petrochemical industries have brought to us we should be content. Were living longer, with more opportunities, abundance and leisure time than at any time in our history. But once again true to our nature we are restless and never satisfied for long and now it seems the developed world is in a rush to set a new heading. This most modern mission seems to be to leave nature behind and to define a different role for ourselves. And alarmingly this new trend prefers to view nature as something apart from us humans and our consumptive practices. The result is a growing disrespect for nature even as we loudly say otherwise. We pretend to recognize the natural worlds full and true value while setting it on a pedestal as something to observe and admire rather than to fully embrace and understand. Even more alarming it seems this separation has created a form of human self loathing. The only solution, for which many now see as a human free planet. What is the point of sustainability discussion or action if this truly is the end goal? In spite of the obvious paradox this completely delusional thinking has gained traction within a growing segment of society. What these folks are failing to see is that a disconnect from the active role that humans play within nature is only and truly a disconnect from ourselves.

The Wild Fur Industry

The art of trapping is a lifelong learning experience that often requires trappers to enter habitats few people ever visit. Trapping usually instils a strong appreciation toward wildlife and the environment and it typically fosters an exceptional understanding and knowledge of animals as well as a close relationship with the land. Over years this knowledge can be profound and far reaching. On a trapline nobody understands the complexities and rhythms on that given piece of land better than the trapper. For centuries Canadian trappers have been engaged in the commercial fur trade. But in the last 30 years activists using highly emotional and well publicized charges of cruelty have pushed to ban the wild fur industry. The pressure that this has created has caused countries from around the world to examine this issue and respond in one fashion or another. Here in Canada the response was nearly immediate, well thought out and very thorough. Through the Agreement on International Humane Trap Standards (AIHTS) and with ongoing support from Canada’s federal and provincial governments, researchers, trappers and other interested parties have rose to the challenge.

Over the past 30 years we have developed hundreds of humane capturing devices that meet or exceed those standards set forth under AIHTS. With rock solid data as support Canada can proudly claim to have the highest humane trap standards in the world. This is undisputed and in the interests of the wild fur resource Canadians have freely given their technology to 30 other countries around the world. Further to this the Canadian fur trade is highly regulated with each province and territory having its own individual harvest and protection regulations for each species and specific geographical area. Today in Canada no commercial fur bearer is threatened and instead all have thriving populations. As the fur trade has evolved over the centuries trappers have adapted their practices to reflect increased knowledge and understanding of the fur trade and the resource they harvest.

Today the success of Canada’s fur trade is as much recognition of a centuries-old tradition of excellence as it is a modern example of the sound application of conservation principles and sustainable development. A good example is Alberta, Canada, where there is 18 furbearing commercial species. In this province commercial trapping has been an ongoing recorded activity here for 240 years and yet today none of these 18 species are threatened and instead all have healthy populations. Since 1942 AB trappers have harvested just under 40,000 beaver annually. Nearly 30,000 coyote pelts are shipped each year from Alberta. The annual fur harvests for other fur bearing species are equally impressive. It’s a remarkable record of balance and management and no other industry in Alberta can point to or equal that record of sustainability. Every province and territory in Canada can point to similar achievements with some provinces being able to add another 100 years or more to the record.

The Disconnect

For many activists their actual care for the resource is often secondary to their own ideals. For those whose utopia seems to be an earth without humans none of the above means anything and our earnest efforts have never been enough. Further the destruction of centuries old traditions and sustainable ways of life mean little on their quests to wring donations from well meaning but gullible people mainly living in urban areas.

Worldwide there are hundreds of well documented examples of the fallout that comes to rural communities who have lived close to the land in a traditional and sustainable manner for centuries on the same ground and then have had their way of life ended. In Canada it has been devastating for tens of thousands as the anti fur and anti sealing campaigns on their way to cashing in have been relentless and without regard for the destruction of a proud, dignified and ethical way of life.

Anti trapping and anti selling arguments are the most effective when they are easily grasped and reflect long held prejudices. This is something the animal rights activists have recognized and have been quick to exploit. In fact the anti fur activists financial success has been chiefly due to their willingness to play on emotions and to tell the truth only when it serves them best. They grab every opportunity to exploit the growing disconnect between urban and traditional rural societies. This strategy plays well to a modern urban society that doesn’t want to see something killed and would prefer to receive their food and other gains while looking away and not having to think about it. But best wishes aside the natural world is one of life and death and there is a lot of harsh reality out there.

For centuries the Canadian fur industry has understood its roles and responsibilities and has shown tremendous respect for the wild fur resource. Respected Cree Elder Thomas Coon once said “when an animal is harvested it must be done with dignity, love, and respect”. In this sophisticated brave new world filled with experts and specialists speaking a highly technical language which effectively shuts most of us out of the debate these words probably sound quaint. But they do go back and speak to a time when every human had to look into the eyes of a dying animal and thank it for giving its life and for providing sustenance and clothing.

As consumers when we separate ourselves from that reality it’s easier to feel less guilty and to overlook that someone else is doing that killing for them. Trapping will never go away. I’m very confident of that. Two beaver left unchecked will multiply into over 600 beaver in a decade. Remember those 40,000 beaver Albertan trappers annually harvest. I’ll leave it to you to do the math.

The bottom line is every region and city in the world has its specific wildlife problems and the only long term cost effective solution is to employ trappers with their unique knowledge and skills in order to minimize human wildlife conflicts. For this trapper the almost criminal difference here lays in the perverse ethics in how the resource is viewed. In many cities and some countries such as the Netherlands up to 500,000 muskrats and large numbers of foxes are captured every year. This wildlife is euthanized in one manner or another and then incinerated.

As a concerned environmentalist myself, I hope they are using carbon neutral natural gas. But the bottom line in these cases is essentially the animal has been reduced to vermin. It is viewed as a nuisance. It has no value and it is simply killed and tossed aside as our modern society hastily rushes forward. As a society we seem to be losing our capacity for empathy and should be very alarmed at the real danger that the continued separation of people from nature poses. The trapper's career is a lifelong learning experience filled with hardship, financial investment and physical risks. It is an ethical career that leaves virtually no footprint on the landscape. While this way of life is not for everyone our society needs to recognize that this respectful way of life holds many of the keys to our continued sustainability.

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