Trapping and the Environment
"Non-target catches on the dry land line are a fact of life" - "The Trapper and Predator Caller" (September 1998, p. 51)
In a deceitful public relations campaign designed to deflect criticism of their treatment of animals, the Canadian fur industry has been making claims about fur being an environmentally friendly product. But these transparent statements are absolutely false. In fact, advertising standards committees in England, Denmark, Holland, Italy, and Finland have ruled any advertising declaring fur as environmentally safe to be false and misleading.
Please take a few minutes to find out the true environmental consequences of trapping animals for their fur.
Fur industry myth: "From an environmental perspective, as long as trapping is well regulated, it is far preferable to use natural furs." (Fur Harvesters Auction Inc.)
Fact: The fur industry often compares wild caught furs to synthetic ones, and attempts to say that "natural" furs are more environmentally friendly. But in doing so, they are forgetting about all of the fossil fuels used to produce this so-called natural product, and the environmental destruction waged by the traplines.
A study by Ford Motor Co. researcher Gregory Smith found that production of a wild caught fur required 3 times more energy than the production of a synthetic coat. Smith took into account all of the fossil fuels used to operate vehicles along the traplines, as well as to operate the equipment necessary to tan and process the pelts.
Of course, in addition to the high levels of energy used in the process, trapping animals for their fur decimates endangered species and other wildlife populations.
Fur industry myth: "Trappers are our "eyes and ears" on the land...They have a direct interest in protecting wildlife habitat. They are true "practicing conservationists". (Fur Council of Canada)
Fact: Trappers are notorious for mistakenly referring to themselves as conservationists. In reality, trapping has a detrimental effect on endangered species, and stimulates disease and overpopulation in wildlife. The history of the fur trade, past and present, is evidence that no animal, no matter how abundant, is immune to possible extinction should its pelt become valuable to the fur trade. As fur pelt prices rise, and as trappers find feewer valuable pelts, these pelts become more avidly sought out. Commercial extinction can result fairly quickly if animals with valuable pelts are killed in a totally unregulated matnner. Animals whose populations numbered in the millions and whose ranges extended over entire continents have been reduced to near extinction within the space of a few decades, as has recently been demonstrated by the trade in spotted cats. For those animals unfortunate enough to be naturally rare in the wold for ecological or geographic reasons - the Falkland Island fox and the North American sea mink, for example - total extermination came easily and quickly when their pelts were in demand by the fur trade.
Fur industry myth: "Strict government controls ensure that NO endangered species are every used." (Fur Council of Canada)
Fact: There is currently no federal endangered species legislation in Canada.
According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, a division of Environment Canada:
- The Sea Mink, which used to live in the coastal waters of Newfoundland and is now extinct was eradicated by the fur trade.
- The Newfoundland Marten is considered endangered, with only 300 individuals remaining. One of the primary causes of this decline is trapping.
- The Wolverine, which lives in Quebec, is another endangered species whose demise has been caused by fur trappers.
Heavy exploitation following the advent of the fur trade also played a major role in the decline of the wood bison in Canada (Gates et al. 1992).
Any animal can walk into a trap, and endangered species are no exception. Up to nine tenths of the animals that are caught in traps are discarded because they are nontarget, and have no economic value. These animals are refered to by industry as "trash" animals, and include endangered species.
The numbers of the highly endangered wolverine of eastern Canada continue to decline because of trapping. A number of Alberta Swift Foxes, which are on the brink of extinction, have fallen victim to trappers, and prominent environmental organizations including the Sierra Club of Canada have warned that the red wolf population will continue to decline unless trapping is banned in 37 communities adjoining Algonquin Park. The University of Minnesota Raptor Research and Rehabilitation Program conducted a study that showed that 21% of all admissions of bald eagles involved leghold trap related injuries, 64% of these injuries were fatal.
Fur industry myth: "Nothing is wasted." (Fur council of Canada)
Fact: "Trash animals" is the term used by the fur industry to describe the non-target animals that are caught in traps, because they have no economic value. Trappers themselves report that three to ten "nontarget" animals - domestic dogs and cats, rabbits, songbirds, raptors, deer, etc. - are caught in the trap for each intended victim. Of course, these incidental deaths, which include endangered and threatened species, are not factored into the sustainability of the fur "resource."
For a typical 40" fur coat, the following animals are killed:
|Â||# of Target Animals in 40" Coat||# of "Trash" Animals/Coat||Total hrs Spent in a Trap|
Statistics from Skin Trade Primer by Susan Russell, published by Friends of Animals; Table courtesy of PETA
Fur industry myth: "Trapping (is) necessary worldwide to help control the spread of disease. . ." (Fur Council of Canada)
Fact: Trapping helps stimulate the spread of disease. First of all, by thinning the animal populations in the fall and winter, it forces animals to travel greater distances to find a mate in the spring. If an animal is a carrier of disease then he will carry it over a much larger tract of land than he would have had the trapping season been closed.
Secondly, animals in the latter stages of a lethal disease will not be attracted to the lures a trapper uses. Therefore, the chances of catching a healthy, prime animal are greater than those of catching a sick and weak animal. This reduces the genetic strength of the animal population, making them more susceptible to disease.
Fur industry myth: "Even without the fur trade, trapping would be necessary worldwide to help control wildlife over-population..." (Fur Council of Canada)
While trapping takes some species to the brink of extinction, it causes others to overpopulate. Animals such as the lynx and the wolverine reproduce at very slow rates, but others are much more prolific. Trapping of these species actually causes them to breed more. Trapping causes an immediate decline in the number of living animals. This leads to less competition for food and habitat for the surviving furbearers. As a resonse to their dwindling numbers, fertility rates increase, as do litter sizes. A study in 7 Texas counties showed that in areas with no trapping, the average number of coyote pups was 4.3 per litter. On the other hand, in counties where intense coyote trapping was taking place, the average litter size increased to 6.9 pups per litter.
More locally, for twenty years trappers in Quebec's Gatineau National Park found no success in their attempts to control the local beaver population. However, when trapping was stopped, and non-lethal control methods were implemented, there was a 75% decline in beaver related problems.
Trapping upsets the delicate and complex balances that exist in nature. Most species targeted by trappers are predators. Removing these animals from the population often leads to immediate animal overpopulation as their prey species go unchecked.