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Fur protest ads anger NWT trapper
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 22, 2008
Ashton Hawker, 60, is a second-generation trapper and took offence to an ad that appeared in the Dec. 8 News/North, from Fur-Bearer Defenders - an organization opposing cruel trapping practices - from Vancouver, B.C., that depicted a fox with its leg caught in a live hold trap.
Hawker said most trappers in the Northwest Territories use quick-kill traps.
"With a quick kill, the fur isn't damaged and the animal doesn't suffer," he said.
He said he does not use the leg hold trap because he doesn't like to see an animal suffer inhumanely.
Hawker said anti-fur campaigns based on misinformation have caused a marked decrease in fur prices and he believes the industry will be dead in 20 years.
"These guys killed the industry," he said.
"They've made a lot of hungry families."
Hawker said the trapping industry is being targeted by environmental groups. He said fur is stigmatized down south, while leather - made from tanning cow hide - is mainstream. Hawker said he believes groups left domestic operations largely untouched because their slaughtering practises are defined as "harvesting," adding trappers should perhaps start calling themselves fur harvesters.
Hawker suggested the fox pictured in the ad was stuffed and made to look especially heart-wrenching by the organization.
Leg hold traps are illegal in Canada and the NWT, however some varieties - like padded, offset or traps set underwater - are still legal.
John Colford, manager of traditional economy with the territorial government, said the trap in the advertisement is an offset trap, which trappers in the territory tend not to use.
"It's not illegal in the Northwest Territories, but it's strongly discouraged," he said.
"The majority of trappers in the Northwest Territories use quick-kill traps," he said.
He said the government undertook a trap exchange in the 1990s to promote quick-kill traps in advance of the signing of the Agreement on International Humane Standards.
Colford said if he had to estimate the percentage of trappers using leg hold traps, "it would be a low number."
He said the advertisement misrepresents the trapping sector in the NWT.
Fannya Eden, a program coordinator with Fur-Bearer Defenders, said the organization put the same advertisement in newspapers across the country.
"I don't think there is anything inaccurate about our ad because we are talking about British Columbia and all these traps are legal in B.C.," she said.
"It is a real fox," said Eden, to rebut Hawker's claim of the authenticity of the photo.
She said had she known the ad would have upset trappers in the North, the group would have used a photo of an animal caught in a quick-kill - or Conibear - trap.
Eden said the Fur-Bearer Defenders is against commercial - and non-subsistence - trapping.
When the group started up in 1944, it set out to rid the industry of leg hold traps, which it saw as cruel because animals suffered and were not killed immediately. The group even raised funds to support inventor Frank Conibear's work to create a quick-kill trap.
However, she said when Conibear confessed his trap would only kill humanely if the correct animal entered the trap at the right speed and angle, the defender group said they couldn't see how there would ever be a humane trap invented.
"The traps don't have a computer chip in them. They don't know what animals they are supposed to catch and what animals they aren't supposed to catch," she said.
"Anything that goes into it is going to get caught."
Hawker said it is only inexperienced trappers who would set a trap to catch animals it was not meant to. He said there are no raccoons or skunks getting caught up here.
"Obviously, the trappers will never agree with us and we don't agree with them," said Eden.
One thing the two groups can agree on is the industry has taken a massive hit in the past 20 years or so.
Hawker said he used to sell lynx pelts for between $800 to $1,200. Now he said he would be lucky to get $300 for one.
According to the North American Fur Auction website the company sold nearly 4,000 lynx for between $300 and $500 each last year.
The Fur-Bearer Defenders website states 32 million animals were trapped in North America in 1980. That number is now down to three to four million per year.
The territorial government estimated around 700 people make their living trapping in the NWT, according to 2005 numbers.
Wilfred Jackson, from Fort Good Hope, has trapped his whole life and said he has used quick-kill traps exclusively for the past ten years.
"We don't use leg holds any more," he said.
"No one does except for beaver traps," he added, which are set underwater and the animal drowns right away.
Jackson makes a substantial portion of his living trapping and said the industry has rebounded in recent years.
"It's been good for the last couple years," he said. "It's getting better."
Hawker said the decline in the industry can also be blamed for the decreasing numbers of young trappers.
"The Inuit and native people have to make a living," said Hawker. "Do you want us all on welfare?"
"Who wants to get into a dying industry?" he asked.
"The way the economy is going, we might need to go back into the bush."
—With files from Chris Puglia