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Fur trappers take many types of animals within city limits.

Fur trappers take many types of animals within city limits

For a heavily forested northern city of 3,004 square kilometres, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that fur trapping is a way of life for many people in Timmins.

Within city boundaries there are 58 registered traplines for beaver, fisher, lynx, marten, mink, otter, muskrat, fox and timber wolf.

In fact, technically there are traplines right in downtown Timmins. When a nuisance animal appears in the downtown area, the trapper with the trapping rights to the area can take care of it.

Wild animals have been forced out of the built-up area of the city by loss of habitat. However, trapper Bill Russell says anywhere that there is habitat there are wild animals.

Russell, who is also president of the Ontario Trappers Association, says trapping takes place in Timmins within minutes of the downtown area, on the Mattagami River or anywhere that there are trees or natural habitat.

His best estimate is that trapping directly injects $150,000 to $200,000 per year into the local economy.

"But the big thing is spin-off," he says. "That has to be considered."

Most, if not all, trappers must buy boats, all-terrain vehicles and canoes, he notes.

For the trappers themselves, it is far from a lucrative lifestyle, with many of them trapping only part time.

Russell estimates that, depending on the size of the trapline, a trapper can make between $2,000 and $8,000 per year.

The price of fur, which is subject to drastic changes, has much to do with the income. For instance, at one time a lynx pelt sold for about $600, but now sells for less than $100.

Russell explains that such long-hair fur is currently out of fashion.

"It will come back," he insists.

There are usually four or five people on a waiting list to get a trapline, but, when the price of fur is high, that number can increase to a dozen.

Fur trapped in Timmins finds its way all over the world, beginning with an auction in North Bay which is attended by 100 to 150 buyers from Canada, the United States and Europe.

Each year in the Ministry of Natural Resources' Timmins administrative district, which is actually smaller than the municipal boundaries of the city, there are 1,800 to 2,000 beaver trapped, 200 to 250 mink, more than 1,000 marten and 400 to 500 fox.

In addition, about 15 timber wolf are taken each year.

Among the many furs hanging on the basement walls of Russell's home, there is the white fur of a wolf he trapped about a decade ago at the Timmins Airport. He had been called to remove about 12 wolves from the area because they were chewing on the cables for the airport lights and shorting them out.

The Ontario Trappers Association was founded in 1947 and represents many of the 15,000 trappers in the province.

It offers free liability insurance of $1 million for trappers, publishes a quarterly magazine, exchanges information and lobbies government on behalf of trappers.

"It gives a voice for trappers anywhere in the province," says Russell, who has been head of the organization for four years.

Russell began trapping 42 years ago as a 12-year-old, checking traplines with his father.

"I'm trapping on the same ground, the same trapline," he says.

However, Russell notes that he is harvesting twice the amount of furs his father did because of mechanized travel and highly-sophisticated management techniques.

Of course, Russell is a staunch defender of the trapping way of life.

If trapping were to stop, there would be an increase in animal populations followed by a "tremendous crash", he says.

The carrying capacity of habitat is fixed, but through management techniques, it is artificially increased, he explains. "You just harvest the surplus."

Russell says, just as a farmer fertilizes a field, a trapper recycles an animal after its fur is removed, if no human wants to eat it. Feeding stations are set up on the trapline in the winter.

The young of any species is most vulnerable in the winter unless there is a readily available source of food, he says. For example, during a hard winter, 95 per cent of juvenile marten die. "Feeding stations ensure that never happens."

Russell also defends trapping techniques.

By law, any leg-hold trap must be checked daily, either by the trapper or a helper, he notes.

A trapper also must take a mandatory fur management course, including 40 hours in the classroom and a number of field trips.

Novice trappers receive a basic understanding of the biology of each species and are taught the latest and most humane methods of harvesting.

Russell says humane death is "when an animal is rendered immediately into a state of irreversible unconsciousness."

Russell doesn't criticize members of the general public for opposing trapping.

"They're probably very, very well-meaning, but they're totally misinformed," he says.

However, he says that there are groups which are intentionally misinforming the general public and profiting from financial donations.

Russell believes that, if trapping was abolished, the opponents would only move on to another money-making cause.

He thinks trappers must become involved in public relations and sell the value of their lifestyle.
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Title Annotation:Timmins Report; Timmins, Ontario
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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