It is well known that prior to the arrival of European settlers North America was home to lush and diverse populations of game animals. These animals varied from migratory birds such as the sandhill crane, elk, moose, turkey, deer, black bear, etc. Some of the most valuable animals to people prior to European expansion were furbearers. This was due to the value of their pelts/meat/products, and the animals ability to create lush environments. Some tribes believed the beaver and water dwellers to be sacred as seen in Blackfeet culture. Once the Europeans arrived, they began to settle and seek furs to sell/trade at the market. This is when we begin to see game populations shrink due to the fur trade, over harvesting, and a lack of overall natural resource management/conservation from the Europeans.
1. Helps Improve Game Bird Populations
Since humans have expanded their territory, we have begun reducing both the habitats and populations of various native foliage/animals to make room for more “developed” land such as housing and agricultural fields. With this switch, not only do you destroy/alter the stability of an ecosystem with the removal of habitat and food opportunity, you also add an increase in garbage and food waste to the system that has never been there in such high quantity. Like roaches, if you begin to leave excess waste/trash about you will begin to attract greater numbers of adaptable nuisance species due to the lack of biological diversity and native food source.
These reasons are why we have begun to see the native raccoon, skunk, and opossum populations explode in the last few centuries. Since the raccoon and opossum populations have increased dramatically they have made an impact on upland game bird populations. This is because many species are eating the eggs of these bird species, thus drastically reduced the numbers of the next offspring and potentially reducing the overall population of the next generation(s). Some land managers take matters into their own hands and either use cage traps, foot hold, body grip traps, or snares to reduce the populations of predators either by harvesting the animals or by relocating animals.
2. Help Reduce Property Damage
This reason is one of the main drivers/motivators you hear people list off when talking about the benefits of fur harvesting/trapping. Beavers and muskrats are some of the more frequently complained about species when related to issues with water supply and dams in farming/ranching communities. Muskrats can have an impact on agriculture plots as well as the quality of habitat that they resided in. These animals benefit from some amount of predation as to prevent their populations from collapsing or causing greater damage to the surrounding areas. Aside from a few species, a majority of the animals causing the majority of the issues are not endangered or threatened and can handle the pressure that we as humans place on them in moderation thanks to conservation efforts.
3. Useful to Help Reduce Invasive Species Spread/Impact
Trapping is useful at helping reduce the amount of unwanted and even harmful species invading precious ecosystems in various parts of the country. An example of this is the spread of the nutria (also referred to as swamp rats) across the Gulf of Mexico coast and various parts of the Pacific North West. Nutrias were original brought in from South America in 1889 for their fur. The market for the creature’s fur was relatively short lived and fell through in the 1940’s. These caused a large sum of the species to either escape from their enclosures due to poor maintenance or they were released into the wild. Without pressure from trappers and having no native population controls, their populations increased significantly like most invasive species. Nutria are causing high amounts of damage to wetlands and marshes. These animals feed on aquatic vegetation, but the root structure of aquatic vegetation is what holds wetlands and marshes together. When removed, the land/bank erodes leaving only water.
In the past year or two I listened to a podcast from Steven Rinella’s Meateater podcast titled, EP. 088: CONSERVATION THROUGH ERADICATION where he brought on Steve Kendrot, who worked on the Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project. This project was founded on the idea that the best conservation for these creatures was eradication to save the ecosystem/habitat and restore the damage that they have caused. The effort was funded by and coordinated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture. They used various trappings methods, technology, and insight from private land owners to aid in their goals. I suggest giving the podcast a listen if you wish to hear a more in-depth summary of the history of nutria and how and why they went about working on the project.
4. Helps Connect You to Nature And The Ecosystem
Despite the stigma that all trappers are greedy and exploit various species for profit at the expense of the animal(s), you must observe the animal in its environment and respect it. It is important that you view the animal with the value it has to the world and to leave “gifts” for it without any direct incentive to you. Author Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her unraveling of her own personal grudges against trappers and how trappers are in tune with the environment after meeting a Canadian trapper named Lionel in her book Braiding Sweetgrass when she writes, “Martens are part of Lionel’s life here- they’re his neighbors and he is thankful that they have rebounded from near extirpation. Trappers like him are on the front line of monitoring wildlife populations and well-being. They have a responsibility to take care of the species they rely upon, and every visit to the trap line produces data that will govern the trapper’s response” (Kimmerer, p.192).
Lionel describes the role of a trapper based on his own personal ties to the recreation and his ethical perspectives. Most of which seem to be based on his own experience from his family fur trapping when he was a boy and his indigenous heritage. The main example he ties in revolves around martens and how trappers can determine when they can/can’t trap based on what they are seeing in their traps sex wise. He goes on describing how he leaves out fish guts for martens as to respect the species and encourage growth, while also taking excess males as to prevent interspecies completion for food resources (p.193).
5. Gives You a High Quality Natural Resource
Prior to the fall/crash of the fur trade market, fur pelts were a sought after luxury item. Many animal furs are warmer and more durable than any synthetic clothing material you could get in the modern day market. There are many other materials/resources you can get from animals, such as oils and meat, but fur pelts are the most sought after and appreciated in the modern era. Not only are these materials biodegradable, some are even waterproof, but with proper care they can outlast any synthetic product durability wise. It is a no brainer that natural products are superior in every way, while also rejecting the modern environmental/ethical issue of fast fashion due to the quality and longevity of the product(s). The main reasons why you don’t see many people nowadays wearing furs are due to a change in culture perpetuated by animal welfare groups and government legislative changes.
I personally prefer to have a singular high quality item that does many jobs in one and will last many years. I would rather trade the ethical harvesting of a few creatures for an item that will last me 20+ years than constantly feeding into the ambiguous fast fashion industry which relies on unsustainably sourced resources and unethical labor across the globe. I refuse to keep knowingly reduce the quality of life for fellow humans who practically slaves in the name of cheap labor/products.
6. It Requires Less Energy/Time Than Hunting
Trapping, much like using set lines/trot lines for fishing is a passive way to catch an animal. It allows a person to set up tens to hundreds of traps and leave them overnight. Unlike hunting, this saves you many hours of sitting/stalking prey and allows you to even be able to catch game over night. This is an advantage over hunting. Your chances of success are far greater and once you have either made or purchased your traps, you can typically use them over and over again depending on the method you choose. Trapping is perfect for those who don’t have the time to devote days to sitting in a blind or tree stand but still want meat or pelts for personal crafts or to sell.
Trapping is one of the first industries that made the United States what it is today. Our ancestors relied on these animals to be able to survive the harsh conditions. Now, there is a steep decline in the amount of people fur-trapping, causing less incentive to preserve and protect these animals for the future and further allowing more and more land to be sold off and developed into housing complexes or big box stores. It is a resource that is meant for us to utilize and care for. It takes considerably less physical effort and time overall than when hunting. These animals give their lives to us to utilize and to be grateful for and we need to step up to the plate and say thank you. We need to start caring about these animals and protect them (or remove them) to help keep our game populations and ecosystems intact for our kids and grandkids. I encourage anyone interested in the topic to look into getting their fur harvesting certificate through their state and look for a mentor or class to show them the ropes!
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. “Honorable Harvest.” Braiding Sweetgrass, Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, 2020, pp. 190–193.