Chapter five explores the economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability of trapping.
Generally speaking, commercial trapping has disastrous impacts on the ecosystem. Trapping reduces species populations resulting in the loss of ecosystem biodiversity, general ecosystem decrease in resilience to pathogens and diseases, and destabilization of populations at lower trophic levels¹.
Although specific traps are used for different species, trap bycatch is fairly common. Bycatch is the result of trapping an undesired species in a trap. Bycatch is a major survival hurdle for species, especially those that are endangered or at risk². Unintentional wild animals caught in killing neck snares in Canada include apex predators (e.g., bears, bobcats, lynx, cougars), mesopredators (e.g., wolverines, fishers), birds of prey (e.g., bald eagles, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks), and large ungulates (e.g., white-tailed deer, moose, caribou)³. Furthermore, household pets, like dogs, are commonly found caught and dead in traps. Animals caught in traps, both intentionally and unintentionally, who have escaped contribute to undocumented cases of mortality⁴. For instance, studies have found that incidental capture of cougars in traps results in them dying weeks after due to injuries sustained by the trap⁴. The loss of such keystone species and ecosystem engineers can be catastrophic for the environment.
The tanning of pelts emits toxic and odorous substances resulting in air pollution and environmental concerns⁵. Furthermore, disposing of trapped animal carcasses by incineration leads to carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrochloric acid (HCl), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxins, particulates, and heavy metals being released into the atmosphere⁵. The result is toxic chemicals being released and an increase in air pollutants.
Research around the sustainability of trapping is highly political and independent studies are usually too expensive and inaccessible to conduct⁶ ⁷. Often, thorough research concerning trapping is only achievable for small populations as a result of this and generalizations about the sustainability of trapping are made⁷. Independent research that has been conducted on this matter has revealed that wolverine trapping is not sustainable in Canada due to human and natural barriers and a lack of refuge for this species⁷. This research study also suggested that wolverine trapping rates needs to be reduced by at least 50% in order to be sustainable long term⁷.
Due to a lack of regulations surrounding trap bycatch and a lack of requirement for trappers to put up signage indicating traplines are present in an area, bycatch incidents are not required to be reported. Furthermore, when a trapper reports their numbers for the season, authorities rarely, if ever, confirm quotas. As a result, the public is generally unable to fully appreciate the scope and effects of trapping².
Synopsis: Trapping for fur was historically an economic driver that helped the exploration and building of Canada. Currently, commercial trapping is a fringe industry that realized just $8M in fur sales nation-wide in the most recent data year. It is an industry that relies on killing animals, for which trappers receive very little profits in return for their efforts. Instead, the majority of profits realized through commercial trapping are gained by the companies that acquire the fur pelts and convert them into clothing. At present, commercial fur trapping does not appear to be profitable for individuals and does not appear to be economically sustainable.
Historically in Canada, commercial trappers sold their pelts through the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company¹. Over time, commercial trappers transitioned from selling furs at these companies to fur auction companies which would attract buyers from across the globe. Canadian-sourced fur is sold globally, mainly to the United States, Asia (China and Hong Kong), and Europe (Italy, Germany, Denmark, Poland, and Greece)². With the demand for fur fashion declining across the globe, there is only one remaining fur auction house in North America, the Fur Harvesters Auction, which offers fur pelt sale auctions bi-annually³.
The value of fur pelts fluctuates within the global market which makes profits realized from trapping vary. On average coyote pelts are valued between $10 to $40, while fox and skunk pelts are worth $10³. Otter pelts retrieve between $15 to $25, marten pelts fetch $20 to $40, fisher pelts can earn $20 to $30, and lynx pelts are worth $60³. Beaver pelts range from $10 to $70, bobcat pelts are worth anywhere between $30 to $300, and wolf and wolverine pelts are worth between $250 to $500³. It is important to note that these figures are for pelts that sell; unsold pelts are likely to be destroyed (see below for further details).
When selling fur, there are many factors that impact its value, including, but not limited to: loose or falling-out hair; burnt, singed, scored, or shot-up fur; and under or overstretched pelts⁴. How fur is handled when being removed from the trap, transported, and handled also affects the quality and subsequent value of the fur⁵. Holding onto pelts until market values increase is also risky, as chemical changes in the fur decrease their value over time⁶.
Major clothing retailers that used to purchase these furs have gone fur-free due to growing consumer demand and pressure to stop manufacturing with fur, increasing environmental concerns about the negative impacts of trapping, and alternatives such as faux fur being available for use. Such clothing retailers include Macy’s, Armani, Hugo Boss, Versace, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Nordstrom, Gucci, and more. Two notable examples are the Hudson’s Bay Company and Canada Goose which decided to go fur-free in 2023 and 2021, respectively⁷ ⁸. The result is a severe reduction in the value for fur pelts, particularly coyote furs.
In 2023, the Fur Harvesters Auction’s first bi-annual auction offered 45,440 coyote pelts for sale with only 27,264 being sold⁹. The second auction offered 41,855 pelts for sale with 10,045 pelts being sold⁹. The result is 49,986 coyote pelts being unsold in 2023⁹. Visit the Fur Harvesters Auctions website here for auction results from 2002 to 2023 for various species and here for a detailed auction catalog of various species’ pelts sold from 2015 to 2023.
According to the Fur Harvesters Auction¹⁰:
“Unsold pelts are not returnable. They will be re-offered on subsequent sales until sold or in the case of poor quality skins to be declared “ No Value” . Skins that have no commercial value will be turned over to the Ministry of Natural Resources for disposal. These skins will appear on your printout as “no value”.
Data sourced from Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. 2018 - 2023
Total revenues from Canadian pelt sales in 2012 - 2013 were $48.9 million from 916,572 pelts produced¹¹. In 2016 - 2017, 532,295 pelts were produced which generated $18 million¹¹. The most recent published figures are from 2021 - 2022 which produced 330,077 pelts and generated $7.8 million¹¹. From 2012 to 2022, there is an 85% reduction in the value of pelts produced/sold in Canada.
Data sourced from Fur Institute of Canada: Canadian Wild Fur Production From 2010 to 2021
Trapping is a seasonal activity that is mostly recreational or used to supplement one’s income. In modern society, it is rare for trapping profits to be economically sustainable for a trapper. As mentioned by the Yukon Trapper Association's President in a CBC article from 2016, trapping is by no means a six-digit income lifestyle - making $15,000 a year is considered good⁶.
In the 2012-2013 season, there were 36,181 trapping licenses issued in Canada and $48.9 million generated through the fur auction that year, resulting in the average revenue from pelt sales per trapping license being $1,300 for that season¹¹. Moving forward a decade to the 2021-2022 season, there were 35,210 trapping licenses issued and just $7.8 million generated from fur sales that season, meaning the average revenue from pelt sales per trapping license was just $222 that season¹¹. Assuming a conservative guess that a minimum of 10% of the 35,210 licenses during the 2021-2022 season were active, it still results in an average gross revenue of just $2,220 per year per trapper. It is important to note that these figures are not taking into consideration the costs incurred by these companies and individual trappers. Therefore, the net revenue per year per trapper or per trapping license from pelt sales would be lower than what is presented here.
Data sourced from Fur Institute of Canada: Canadian Wild Fur Production From 2010 to 2021
In 2018, it is estimated that commercial trapping generated $91 million toward Canada’s GDP and supported 738 jobs¹². In Alberta, trapping generated $13 million and sustained 85 jobs¹². It is important to note that it is unclear if these figures include fur farms, which make up approximately 80% of the commercial fur industry. It is also important to make the distinction that this revenue generated from trapping is not from the sales of furs at auctions or from conducting trapping. Instead, this revenue is generated from trappers’ spending activities on goods such as gear, food, lodging, fuel, and major purchases (such as ATVs and trapping cabins) to perform trapping¹². Furthermore, it is important to note that the fur industry is subsidized by the federal government and taxpayer dollars. According to data from the Government of Canada, between the years of 2015 and 2019, nearly $11.5 million in payments were provided to various fur and trapping operations throughout Canada¹³. In the same years, the Government of Canada has provided $9.2 million in grants and subsidies to the fur industry within Canada¹⁴.
To put this into perspective, in British Columbia alone, the tourism industry contributes $22.3 billion into the economy annually and supports 19,300 businesses that employ over 320,000 workers¹⁵. Narrowing that down further, the Adventure Tourism industry in British Columbia is worth over $3.2 billion in direct visitor spending and supports over 32,000 British Columbia families in communities across the province¹⁶. The social benefits of British Columbia residents from eco-tourism include improved health and well-being, educational opportunities, environmental stewardship, improved backcountry access, and enhanced emergency response¹⁶. Another comparable non-consumptive industry in Canada is photography, which generated $1.3 billion in revenue, employed 12,567 Canadians, and supported 8,426 businesses in 2023¹⁷.
A study conducted in Yellowstone National Park has shown that wolf watching tourism opportunities have brought in $35 million USD annually¹⁸. In Alaska, wildlife viewing activities realized over $2.7 billion USD in economic activity in 2011¹⁸. Economists predict that global ecotourism will have a steady compound annual growth rate of 14.2% and reach $526 billion USD by 2027¹⁹.
There are numerous ways that you can make a positive difference in the treatment and management of fur-bearers in Canada. From donating to volunteering to sharing your experiences with fur-bearing animals, there are several opportunities to get involved, give wildlife a voice, and help combat the archaic and inhumane practices of commercial trapping.
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.