Chapter two identifies the common arguments that are used to support trapping and discusses whether these arguments are valid or not in modern day society. Topics such as the historical significance of trapping, environmental stewardship of trapping, the sustainability of the commercial trapping industry, and trapping as a tool to manage apex predators and other wildlife are explored.
Canada’s history is rich with Indigenous culture and tradition. One aspect of this culture and tradition is trapping. Trapping was used by Indigenous peoples as a necessary resource for survival¹. Furthermore, the animals being trapped held significant cultural and symbolic value. Today, trapping is still a part of Indigenous practices for subsistence, clothing, income, and cultural purposes.
Upon the settlement of Europeans in Canada, trapping for profit (i.e. the fur trade) was created¹. This started with direct trade between settlers and Indigenous peoples. At this time, fur trading took place through trade networks and partnerships. The Canadian fur trade eventually became commercialized through the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company². This marked the beginning of the large-scale, profit-driven commercial trapping industry we know today and this industry has become quite disconnected from its traditional Indigenous origins, cultural connections, and values.
Traditional trapping practices originate in Canada’s history and cultural heritage. Now, it can be argued that modern commercial trapping is a more recent development in Canada's history, driven by profit motives, and often disconnected from the deep cultural and historical roots of traditional Indigenous practices. Accordingly, one must question if the commercial trapping industry is a tradition that has a place in modern day society.
While trappers may be committed to sustainable practices, there may be instances where unsustainable practices are employed, particularly by those focused solely on commercial gains. For instance, there may be cases of overtrapping or non-selective trapping. Overtrapping involves trapping animals faster than they can be replaced which can lead to decline or even extinction of a species¹. Non-selective trapping is when a non-targeted animal is caught in a trap². This is called bycatch.
Regulatory bodies and supporters of trapping justify their use of trapping for any of the following reasons: as a wildlife management tool for mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, species at risk conservation, reintroduction of wildlife populations, wildlife research, and the sustainable use of furbearers for commercial fur trade³. However, (as per section 1.1) a study conducted for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association in 2019 showed that approximately 75% of trappers trap mainly for sport and recreation while 20% also do so for employment or income⁴. Although fees attained through trapping licenses may be directed to conservation efforts, the industry itself is supported by taxpayer dollars⁵ ⁶. Such taxpayer dollars could be used to support more effective and humane wildlife management solutions. Refer to section 1.1 for more details.
Trapping is a seasonal activity that is mostly recreational or used to supplement one’s income. Today it is rare for trapping profits to be economically sustainable for a trapper. As mentioned by the Yukon Trapper Association's president, trapping is by no means a six-digit income lifestyle - making $15,000 a year is considered good¹. In 2018, it is estimated that trapping generated $91 million in Canada’s GDP and supported 738 jobs². In the same year, trapping generated $13 million and sustained 85 jobs in Alberta². However, trappers' earnings can be highly variable from year to year due to fluctuations in fur market demands making it difficult to rely on trapping as a consistent source of income. Income realized is often not enough to overcome the significant investments in equipment and infrastructure, such as traps, cabins, and transportation.
Since 2018, demand for fur pelts across the globe has been on a steady decline. Many factors have resulted in this decline, including but not limited to a societal shift away from fur fashion, the global COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine³. Many fur houses have closed with only one, Fur Harvesters Auction, remaining in Canada. Fur Harvesters Auction sets the value for Canadian furs and it is here where international and domestic buyers come together to purchase fur pelts from trappers and fur farmers. Reports from the Fur Harvesters Auction have shown that many pelts remained unsold and the value of pelts vary year after year in hopes of increasing demand³. The diminishing demand for Canadian fur internationally has resulted in taxpayer dollars being directed to support this industry. As mentioned in section 1.1, between the years of 2015 and 2019, nearly $11.5 million in payments were provided to various fur and trapping operations throughout Canada to sustain them⁴. In the same years, the Government of Canada has provided $9.2 million in grants and subsidies to the fur industry within Canada to keep it operational⁵.
By comparison, ecotourism is a fast-growing sector and has promising economic potential. Economists predict that global ecotourism will have a steady compound annual growth rate of 14.2% and reach $526 billion USD by 2027⁶. A study conducted by The Center for Responsible Tourism found that a non-consumptive like bear viewing and photography trips in British Columbia generated 12 times more in visitor spending and 30 times more in job creation than consumptive activities like bear hunting did⁷. Specifically, direct coastal bear viewing revenue generated was $15.1 million while guided non-resident and resident hunters combined generated $1.2 million⁷. Furthermore, government revenue from bear viewing ecotourism generated 11 times more than the revenue generated by guide outfitters - $7.3 million compared to $660,500 respectively⁶. Employment is also higher for bear ecotourism opportunities (510 jobs) versus outfitters (11 jobs)⁷. A study conducted in Yellowstone National Park has shown that wolf watching tourism opportunities have brought in $35 million USD annually⁸. In Alaska, wildlife viewing activities realized over $2.7 billion USD in economic activity in 2011⁸.
There are many reasons why trapping is not an essential tool for managing apex predators and other wildlife. They include but are not limited to:
With checking requirements varying between traps, provinces, and territories and limited enforcement of these checking requirements, animals caught in traps may suffer for extended periods of time before they are killed. If traps are not visited regularly for both live (restraining) and killing traps, animals may experience fear, pain, and prolonged suffering from exposure, exhaustion, stress, thirst, starvation, dehydration, gangrene, infection, necrosis, and predation¹ ² ³ ⁴ ⁵.
Traps are not always selective, and non-target species can be caught, harmed, or killed unintentionally. This bycatch can include endangered or protected species, as well as domestic animals, which raises additional environmental, ethical, and legal concerns. For instance, due to the indiscriminate nature of snaring, the accidental removal of key individuals within a wolf family (e.g., lead female or male) can destabilize the entire pack, impair hunting efforts, and prevent proper care for young⁶ ⁷ ⁸. Furthermore, if a trap is set incorrectly and captures a part of the animal it was not intended for, numerous other injuries can occur. In either case of non-targeted bycatch captures or incorrectly set traps, documented effects include jelly head, lacerations, tooth erosion and fractures, joint dislocations, bone fractures, damage to internal organs, and ‘wring-off’ which involves an animal biting off a limb or limbs to escape (i.e. self-amputation)¹ ² ³.
Unlike ethical hunters who hunt for food and subsistence, a commercial trapper's main priority is maintaining the value and quality of animal pelts. Thus, killing methods of animals caught in traps center around maintaining the fur quality. Ways that trappers ensure this is the case is by clubbing or suffocating the animal to death, choking it with a snare, shooting it in the head, or stomping on its chest⁹. These methods can hardly be considered humane, ethical, or justified.
You've reached the end of this series! We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared to discuss the topics covered to help educate those around you.