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Getting wild over ranching

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 1, 2010

RANKIN INLET - Price and quality meant more to shoppers at the Kivalliq Trade Show in Rankin Inlet this past week than whether the fur came from a natural or ranch-raised source.

NNSL photo/graphic

Darrell Greer/NNSL photo Gaston Henry displays some of the natural and ranch-raised furs he had for sale at the Kivalliq Trade Show in Rankin Inlet this past week. -

And that's something Darrell Barr of Outdoor Elements said would change if Inuit knew more about the ramifications of ranched fur.

Barr has been in the fur industry since first coming to the Arctic in 1988.

He's been working with First Nations in northern Saskatchewan buying wild fur for the past nine years. Barr said the continuance of ranched fur is hurting the wild-fur industry.

He said a lot of people in the Arctic are now wearing ranched fur, and he wonders if they know the animals are raised in cages and pumped full of steroids.

"Inuit across the Arctic are fighting to protect their rights in regards to the traditional seal hunt," said Barr.

I wonder if they understand the importance of wild animals versus caged in the fur they're purchasing.

"A lot of the ranched fur they're buying is not even from Canada.

"Wild fur is similar in quality to ranched fur, but ranched fur is an industry driven by corporations."

Canada's two major fur-auction houses are North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) in Winnipeg, Man., and Fur Harvester's Auction Inc, of North Bay, Ont.

NAFA has been selling natural fur since 1670, and also sells a large volume of ranched fur, especially mink.

The North Bay operation claims to be the only trapper-owned auction house in North America, and deals in wild fur provided by hunters and trappers organizations across the Arctic.

Barr said there's a lot of people who say they support those in the wild-fur industry, yet they buy ranched fur.

He said if ranched fur remains popular, there will be fewer wild-fur trappers around.

"That's when the government will start to protect that industry and we won't have any trappers or the natural harvesting of animals left.

"If the ranched-fur industry continues to grow, it will hurt all aboriginal people who hunt and trap.

"Fur ranching is a huge industry being supported by people wearing exotic fur in the cities who have absolutely no relationship to the land.

"Those with that connection should understand the result of buying ranched fur."

Gaston Henry of Quebec's Gaston Henry Fourrures Inc. said it's not fair to blame any drop in wild-fur hunters on ranch-raised fur.

To Henry it's a matter of supply and demand, with most people having their own preferences when it comes to the furs they purchase and what they intend to use it for.

Henry said natural fur, especially beaver, raccoon and coyote, is often popular with people making mitts, while ranch-raised fur is more attractive to those making garments.

He said about 10 years ago, the Chinese really raised the popularity of ranch-raised fur when they started buying all the mink they could get their hands on at auctions.

"That's why so many ranchers started to grow more, and more, and more mink and other furs," said Henry.

"At the time it exploded, the Chinese people purchased about 80 per cent of all the available ranched mink out there.

"And now, of course, the price has gone very, very high for ranched mink.

"The ranchers pushed the quantity and continued to grow and grow, and that is why you had 25 million mink on the market."

Henry said he buys both ranched fur from a cousin in the fur-ranching industry and his natural fur from a trapper he has been doing business with for years.

He said he deals in wild furs such as beaver and fox, and also sells plenty of ranched fox because it's so popular.

"I don't use many mink, at all, and I don't think it would be very popular at something like the Kivalliq Trade Show.

"I need to have what people prefer and want to buy, and that's mainly ranch fox, some of which are dyed, and natural and ranched beaver and coyote.

"The dyed fur only accounts for about 25 per cent of my total sales, but it often depends on the area I'm in.

"In some areas they prefer ranched fox and in others they prefer wild fur, but, in every area, they prefer eastern prices over Northern prices on fur they're buying."

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