The Changing Face of Fur Trappers in the Cariboo

Fur has been traded for thousands of years. Furs were traded by the Phoenicians and other ancient Mediterranean cultures. European demand for fur, especially beaver, sparked the early history of the North American fur trade. First Nations people originally caught and supplied the furs for this trade then as demand exceeded supply the European explorers entered to supply the world market. Competition for fur among entrepreneurs and nations was central to our political and military history. Representatives of such great fur trading companies such as the Hudson Bay Co. and the Northwest Fur Company were the first non-natives to cross the Rockies and chart the rivers and mountains of British Columbia and vie for trading territory.

In Canada the entire fur industry adds some $600 million to the Canadian economy annually. Hong Kong, the world’s leading exporter of fur clothing, saw their exports surge by 48 percent to HK 2,359 million in 1996.

Pappas Furs of Vancouver accounts for 10 percent of B.C.’s 120 million fur industry. Their companies do 75 percent of the sales of raw fur, roughly $5-6 million. Ironically it is not winter that brings the bulk of business, but summer, with the onslaught of tourists-the same tourists who come to marvel at the Cariboo’s beauty.

The returns from trapping are particularly important to rural young people who do not want to leave home for employment. Trapping provides winter employment for many seasonal workers who would require unemployment insurance to survive. 75 percent of wildlife management budgets come from hunters, fishers and trappers.

The 25 to 40 hip generation are romancing the seas on specially designed cigar cruises. Magazines directed to the cigar smoker abound and restaurants are catering to the puffers with smoking rooms and five dollar cigars. They are well educated, successful and are the movers and shakers of industry and fashion.

This same well healed group has created a revival of interest in fur, fueled by designers who value fur’s unique ability to add texture, glamour and sensuality to an ensemble. Over 150 fashion designers are currently working with fur including: Alfred Sung,Oscar de la Renta, Fendi, Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Valentino and Versace.

The European Union of Austria, Germany, Italy, Belgium, England, Switzerland and France recently joined Canada in its quest for humane trapping and signed a landmark agreement that sets the standards for international trapping. Canada is the world leader in trap development and testing through the University of Alberta facilities. New traps must undergo and meet rigorous engineering and high tech standards to qualify for inclusion in the ultimate renewable resource.

The Cariboo-Chilcotin Trappers’ Association put forward valuable informatin which greatly benefited the development of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Land-Use Plan. B.C. trappers recently joined with the B.C. Wildlife Federation, B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, B.C. Guides and Outfitters Association and fish camp mangers to further enhance resource management.

Sheep rancher Mary Kjeldgaard owes her livelihood to trappers. Coyotes kill 10-20 percent of her lamb crop each year and without harvesting the coyotes, Kjeldgaard would be out of business. She says, “Carpets, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals have wool and with the loss of lambs the cost to the consumer increases. I treat threats to my stock the same as a homeowner treats rats and mice except that I am able to harvest the fur from the humane trapping of the coyotes”.

Conservation Officer Dwane Arp concurs. “When fur prices are down, trappers are not inclined to harvest and the numbers of racoons, coyotes, skunks and beaver increase. Each animal needs a certain amount of room and when that fills up, animals, such as beaver move into the city causing untold damage by flooding creeks which in turn flood homes, wells, septic systems and ruining roads.” Since each species’ habitat is already full, relocation is not possible and when it has been tried survival has been minimal.

Trapping is regulated by Fish and Wildlife management. Furbearing animals produce a surplus each year by giving birth to more young than the habitat can support. The number of animals that can be in a given area is determined by nature. There is only so much available food, cover and space. British Columbia Trappers’ Association Director/Trapper Educator Paul Blackwell says, “up to 70 percent of any given species is surplus each year and will die of starvation and/or disease as winter’s harshness reduces their resources.” According to conservation officers, to control wildlife populations by starvation and disease is not responsible management.

Veterinarians point out that disease is nature’s way of keeping wildlife numbers in check. Distemper, rabies, lymes disease, rocky mountain fever and the parvol virus are all transmitted by wildlife to pets. Distemper is common in racoons and results in a brutal death. Mange is a parasitic disease that is fatal to coyotes and foxes and can be transmitted to pets and sometimes humans. Veterinarian L. D. Berryman says, “Whenever we have an overpopulation of a species of animals we increase the risk of disease to pets and humans. Pet overpopulation could be eliminated by neutering and spaying but most pet owners do not do this. What happens is these animals end up going to the humane society and if they are not adopted they die. This is what happens in wildlife except there is no adoption in the wild.”

Legislator Pam Witt says, “We consent to controlling rats, mice, dogs and cats and we harvest cattle for food and leather. Regulating trapping is a necessary tool to manage designated animal populations to minimize disease and suffering.”

Trappers come in all colors, genders, and races-are the new and old breed.

The South Cariboo is home to over 40 trappers. They share a love and respect for wildlife, the joy of being part of nature and wildlife’s guardians. They work together with ranchers, the general public and management from fish and wildlife, forestry and mining to develop programs to ensure a healthy and lasting widlife population for future generations.