Question 2: 'How can the use of animal (sic) to make a luxury product ever be ethical?'
In the first few sentences of the reply, the FCC evokes what is loosely referred to as “the Bambi Syndrome,” the idea, most certainly not entirely without merit, that many people base their views on fictional and emotionally appealing stories that imbue animals with absurdly anthropomorphic characteristics and badly misrepresent their lives. It states: “Most of us grew up with wonderful stories of Mama Bear and Baby Bear and we all love Bambi. But Nature is not Disneyland.” 6
It may well be that there are adults who literally believe that animals are as presented in children’s literature, that they communicate in English, or in some language equally informative and communicative of ideas, or can problem-solve to the same degree as humans, or are inherently as sly as a fox, thieving as a magpie, wise as an owl, clever as Br’er Rabbit, flustered as the White Rabbit, cuddly as Winnie the Pooh, noble as the various animal inhabitants of Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” as loyal as the apes who raised Tarzan, or in some other fashion possess whatever characters have been given to them in various children’s stories, tales, fables, parables, allegories and myths that go back beyond Aesop or biblical times. But none of that has the slightest thing whatsoever with whether or not the fur industry is “green.” (And really, while agreeing that most people do not know much about animals, we doubt they think they are cartoon characters, but do understand that they are capable of feeling pain.)
The reply goes on to say, “To ensure the survival of the species, most animals produce more young than Nature can support to maturity. These young animals will die of hunger and disease or will be killed by other animals. We can use part of this surplus without reducing wildlife populations.”
We have responded to this concept of what wildlife managers and “resource” extractors, including hunters, fishers and trappers, that the number of animals produced is greater than those required to maintain the species as being “surplus.” Let us look at a classic example of what the FCC is talking about, a ubiquitous species trapped in the millions in nearly every province, territory and state in North America: the muskrat. These aquatic rodents are short-lived (about four years) but very prolific, having litters of five to 10 babies several times each year. Usual litter size is six or seven, and in the warmer parts of their range, usually they have about four litters per year.
For the sake of discussion, even assuming a modest litter size of, say, six babies per litter, if there were no mortality by the end of the year when there were four broods, that would equal 24 new muskrats added to the world, plus the two adults, to equal 26 muskrats, approximately half being male and the other half female. If, the following year, each of the 13 females again gave birth to four broods of six young, there would be 312 extra muskrats, which, added to the 26 already there, would equal a population of 338. Now, if half of those continued the trend, there would be something over 4,000 muskrats, and the pond that started out with one healthy young pair would be quite overwhelmed. This kind of growth is called “exponential” and it does not occur for the simple reason that, exactly as FCC contends, there is a high natural mortality, particularly among the young and the older adults. By around age 4 muskrats tend to slow down with age and are easy prey for predators.
But in North America (unfortunately they have also been introduced to Eurasia, where they are not native), muskrats have co-evolved with all other species native to their wetland habitats and are part of the natural, ecological whole. They, especially the young, old or ill animals, are to varying degrees the natural prey of a plethora of predatory wetland animals, including muskellunge and pike; snapping turtles; water snakes and other large snakes; short-eared owls, great horned and other owls; northern harriers; red-tailed and other hawks; foxes; coyotes; wolves; fishers; mink; lynx; bobcats; and so on. Even great blue herons will snatch up and consume baby muskrats. This is, in part, the role muskrats play as an integrated part of the ecological whole that constitutes a healthy wetland.
The muskrat builds a roughly dome-shaped “lodge” that is utilized by Canada geese, wood ducks, teal and other waterfowl species, as elevated roosts or nest sites, and for nesting by black terns, a marshland species now rare or endangered in much of its range. Turtles often bask on them. The wetlands these species inhabit are dominated by cattails and other “emergent” plants, such as reeds and water lilies. Wetlands are not static but, depending on a variety of factors, slowly receding as generations of marsh plants die and form organic mats on which other plants, such as alders and willows, take root, slowly building up the land. This naturally occurring loss of wetland would be of no significant ecological consequences in a world not disturbed by humans, but marshes are forever being dredged or filled in far faster than nature creates them and the net loss of wetlands has had a very negative impact on many marsh species.
The muskrat cannot stop this process, but part of its ecological role is to create channels through the thick stands of cattails and other emergent vegetation, which in turn benefit species such as rails, gallinules, coots, various waterfowl, bitterns, various fish and reptiles and other species, slowing the change from wetland to dry land.
It is true that, like any species, our own included, muskrats are susceptible to periodic outbreaks of disease. Tyzzer’s disease (clostridium, caused by a bacterium), tularemia, leptospira, salmonella and hemorrhagic fever are among diseases that can occasionally kill off significant numbers of muskrats. But even disease is, as much as both wildlife managers and animal protectionists might not like to think so, part of the ecological whole. There is no waste in nature. By being small and vulnerable when young, slow and vulnerable when old or when ill, muskrats help sustain the predators and scavengers who cohabit their worlds. It is indeed not the idealistic world of a children’s tale, but it is the natural world that has evolved and functioned and sustained life for 3 billion years without need of wildlife management regimes, or trappers. Trappers, properly regulated, don’t wipe out muskrats, but they do remove a percentage of what belongs in the environment, depriving natural predators and scavengers of their food, and there’s nothing “green” about that.
The answer to Question 2 goes on to say of the practice of killing what is considered “surplus”: “This is called ‘sustainable use,’ a principle now recognized and promoted by all serious conservation organizations.” That is a clever bit of wording and quite misleading. Conservation organizations realize that in natural conditions there is no need to remove individual animals and plants. Sanctuaries that allow no consumptive use whatsoever of animals and plants at all have the most natural, typically varied, assembly of native species. But the lobbies promoting consumptive use — hunting, trapping, fishing, timber and so on — are very well-funded, very powerful and politically influential. Conservation organizations recognize that consumptive use of wildlife is going to occur, and history teaches us that unregulated consumptive use of wildlife leads to endangerment and extinction. Thus, if animals are to be destroyed, they argue, at least regulate the destruction so that it does not wipe out the species, thus is “sustainable” as the term is defined.
“Serious conservation organizations” do not promote consumptive use. You do not find “serious conservation organizations” promoting, for example, the “sustainable use” of porcupines, red-backed salamanders, Baltimore orioles, spotted sandpipers, mourning cloak butterflies, red-backed voles, northern flying squirrels, black-capped chickadees, eastern chipmunks or any other wildlife species not commercially exploited, or “harvested” for profit. No “serious conservation organization” is saying that because there is a potential market for, say, scarlet tanagers or meadowlarks among people who keep cage birds, it promotes taking the birds out of the wild in a “sustainable” fashion.
A robin who lays two or three sets of four eggs each season certainly produces “surplus” baby robins, but no one is advocating for a “sustainable use” of robins. When animals are being killed for profit, at the very least even the most rabid defender of animal rights would concede that the killing should be “sustainable.” For an increasing number of wildlife species who have become critically endangered, the most sustainable use equals zero. When a population is in decline, there is no “surplus.”
In North America we seek to provide protection from exploitation for species before their numbers get that low, and we do so through “regulations,” but still we have seen significant population declines in species who are exploited, even though the exploitation is regulated. For some, like the beaver, when the exploitation is reduced, numbers rebound, while for others, like the northern cod or Atlantic right whale, numbers stay low.
Causes of endangerment are usually multiple, but no species benefits from being trapped, sustainably or not.
The FCC’s answer for Question 2 goes on to say: “The fur trade (and other wildlife use) also provides a financial incentive to protect the natural habitat of animals.”
This argument is very wrong as a small amount of thought will show, and in fact, the opposite is true. If you ask what are the most ecologically devastating events that have happened in Canada, we can think of several. Consider, for example, the James Bay project. This is a series of power-generating stations in northwestern Quebec that produce eight times the power of Hoover Dam, three times more power than Niagara Falls, but at the cost of flooding or building infrastructure on an area the size of New York state. The roads connecting the area to the outside world also led to further mineral exploration and to clear-cut logging. Rivers were diverted and vast regions flooded by giant reservoirs, leading to earth tremors. Among the destruction of wildlife habitat of special concern was the elimination or blockage of traditional salmon spawning runs or caribou migration routes. Mercury contamination is posing a threat to aquatic-based food chains. And yet all the land so devastated in this ecological tragedy was once host to traplines. Clearly the value of the fur produced by those traplines failed to provide “a financial incentive to protect the natural habitat of animals.”
On the contrary, native communities who had trapped in the region for generations because of the “financial incentive” provided by the fur industry accepted the far greater “financial incentive” provided to them by this $20 billion project. Some objected to this abrupt destruction of anything remotely similar to their traditional way of life, or to the memory of ancestors whose homelands and graves were desecrated by this vast megaproject, but they were an ineffective minority. The fur industry or the relatively paltry “financial incentive” it provided local trappers did nothing to prevent the vast ecological damage that continues to this day.
The second ecologically devastating event is clear-cut logging, anywhere in Canada, but especially in old growth forests across the country, and particularly the species-rich rain forests of coastal British Columbia. These forests are, in their natural, pristine state, vast reservoirs of biodiversity. They are also, relative to urban and agricultural areas, relatively thinly inhabited. And some of their inhabitants can earn money trapping fur. But logging is vastly more lucrative, and the fur industry had not prevented it from occurring. Logging roads and clear cuts provide access both for people and for invasive, non-native wildlife. But the clear cutting itself is the major ecological problem, as it destabilizes the soil and leads to degradation of the headwaters of river systems essential to salmon and other fish species, and the predators who depend on them. Slash, the residue of bark and branches from cutting, chokes off forest floor plant life while creating hazardous and unnatural wildfire conditions. Species of bird, such as wood thrushes or whip-poor-wills or grouse, mammal and other wildlife dependent on undisturbed forest, simply die off, unable to survive such horrifically altered conditions. Many boreal species of bird in Canada are in decline.
And yet all these regions, uncut, provided trapping opportunities. Never that we know of was forestry halted because of the “financial incentive” of trapping. On the contrary, from building ski slopes down mountain sides to the great horizon-to-horizon clear cuts in northern boreal forests, there is far more money to be made killing trees than killing fur-bearing animals, with devastating ecological impacts from abrupt and massive alteration of habitat.
We can think of no “serious conservation organization” that is supportive of the Alberta tar sands, renamed by the oil industry and the Canadian government the “oil sands.” This is widely seen as the greatest ecological disaster in the country. The “oil” sands do not produce oil, but bitumen, which has to be refined to produce the oil for which there is an insatiable appetite.
Canada is the biggest supplier of oil to the United States, but the tar sands are only economically feasible when oil reaches such a high price that is it financially viable to extract oil from bitumen, a process that creates a huge carbon footprint. We won’t go into all the numerous environmental concerns generated by this massive project, but we will point out that it takes place in what was, previously, a rich habitat for a wide range of boreal plants and animals, including, ironically, one of the greatest concentrations in the world of valued fur-bearing species and other mammals, including, among the mammals, the masked, dusky, American water, arctic and pygmy shrews; little brown myotis, silver-haired, big brown and hoary bats; snowshoe hare; least chipmunk; woodchuck; red and northern flying squirrels; beaver; deer mouse; Gapper’s red-backed vole; northern bog lemming; heather vole; muskrat; meadow and rock voles; meadow jumping-mouse; porcupine; coyote; gray wolf; red fox; American black bear; brown (grizzly) bear; raccoon; American (pine) marten; fisher; stoat; long-tailed and least weasels; mink; wolverine; badger; striped skunk; river otter; mountain lion; Canadian lynx; caribou; mule and white-tailed deer; moose; and elk — plus numerous bird species, amphibians and other species, some endangered, rare or in decline. The noxious tailing ponds and other effluents threaten the health of animals and humans alike.
But make no mistake: This is a region that, prior to this massive development, was home to traplines. The “economic incentive” provided by the traplines in no way protected the environment, and could not compete against the value of jobs and incomes from the tar sands.
The FCC presents no examples to back up its claim because it is a generally specious one. When the only value placed upon a “resource,” be it a species of animal, plant, landform or whatever, is a monetary value, it fails to provide protection once there is greater value in its destruction.
In fact, monetary value is a curse to many wildlife species, fueling consumptive persecution beyond what has proved to be “sustainable.” Economically speaking it can be, as we have seen again and again, to the financial benefit of the exploiter to wipe out the source of income, maximize profits and reinvest them elsewhere. Thus it is precisely because of their monetary value that so many species of animals are endangered or exterminated. Aristotle Onassis was once the wealthiest man in the world, and a significant part of his fortune was made from whaling. Many of the species his crews and other whalers sought were nearly wiped out and have not recovered. The numbers of great whales are but a fraction of what was once present, but from a purely financial perspective it made perfect sense to the major investors as the fortunes made from the whales were reinvested elsewhere while paying for luxuriantly comfortable lifestyles.
But monetary or materialistic value is not the only value given to living beings. Many species pushed to the brink of extinction have been saved not because of the value of their skins, ivory, meat or other parts and derivatives on the market, but because people care about them. Whooping cranes, California condors, Vancouver marmots, black-footed ferrets and numerous other species were not protected by being harvested and sold, but by being valued in their own right as fellow beings who belong on the planet.
The FCC will not mention it, but prior to the early decades of the 20th century, the “fur trade” was more of an overall wildlife skin trade. A significant percentage of those skins were peeled from the bodies of birds killed to supply the same fashion demands that fuel the fur trade into, but let us hope not beyond, the 21st century.
Most valued were birds that had colorful or filmy plumage, including exotic tropical birds such as birds-of-paradise 7, hummingbirds, toucans or barbets, as well as native songbirds and, especially, species such as egrets, herons, spoonbills, ostriches, storks, terns and so on, that had suitable plumes. Some lived in nesting colonies where large numbers could be killed in one place in a brief span of time, maximizing profits.
It is largely forgotten that 19th century fashions included the wearing of more or less entire stuffed birds attached to women’s hats. A stuffed hummingbird will sparkle like a gem. Seeking to illustrate just how ubiquitous this fashion choice was, in 1886 a famous early American ornithologist, Frank Chapman, stood on a busy corner in New York City, and tabulated what the ladies were wearing. He looked at the hats of no fewer than 700 women and found that three-quarters of them featured stuffed birds of 40 species. These included 15 snow buntings, 16 northern bobwhites, 21 common terns, 21 northern flickers and 23 cedar waxwings, along with five blue jays, one green heron, several species of warbler, nine Baltimore orioles, four robins, three bluebirds and even several grouse and quail.
Nearly eliminated from the American landscape were the beautiful great and snowy egrets — snow-white herons who, in breeding plumage, wear long, filmy white plumes, called aigrettes — and who nest in easily accessible colonies and who will stay close even as they are being slaughtered. In 1903 plumes were worth about $32 per ounce, making them worth approximately twice their weight in gold. The previous year at the auctions at the London Commercial Sales Rooms, in London, England, 1,608 packages of heron plumes were sold, with each package weighing about 32 ounces. That equals a total of 48,240 ounces, and since it took plumes from about four birds to make an ounce, the sale for that year equaled about 192,960 birds killed, all in the nesting season when they wear the plumes, leaving behind thousands more eggs and young. Far from being an incentive to protect the species, their economic value was pushing egrets to extinction.
Fortunately, early in the 20th century, the kind of activism FCC holds in such contempt (see below) led to legislation that provided protection for both migratory birds, such as the meadowlarks, flycatchers, sandpipers and sparrows Chapman recorded seeing on ladies’ hats, and the “plume birds” — particularly the egrets whose protection was the first and primary objective of the newly formed Audubon Society. Poaching continued, and on July 8, 1905, Guy Bradley, who patrolled the egret rookeries of southern Florida, was shot dead by plume hunters he was trying to stop. Three years later warden Columbus McLeod disappeared while protecting the rookeries. His body was never found but his blood-stained hat with what appeared to be an axe wound, and his weighted boat sunk in the water, were located. Later that same year an employee of the South Carolina Audubon Society, staunchly protecting the egrets, was mysteriously murdered.
The murders brought increased attention to the issue, and ultimately not just rookeries, but all herons and egrets were protected and it became illegal to kill, buy or sell them.
We have gone into this level of detail over a largely forgotten part of fashion history to demonstrate that it is not the value of animals that provides the incentive to protect them, but laws passed to protect them and subsequently the fear of punishment. You will be fined and jailed if you shoot and sell the feathered skins of the same species Chapman saw on those hats back in 1886. It is not the monetary value but the inherent value of these species that was recognized, and led to their protection in law, just as it leads to sanctuaries where they can safely and naturally survive. 8
The answer to Question 2 goes on to say: “And, even if there were no market for furs, trapping would still be needed in many regions to control the spread of disease (like rabies), to protect property, and to help maintain a balance with available habitat. Trappers are practicing environmentalists in a very real sense!”
Everyone fears disease, and zoonotic disease (disease that can spread from animals to people) is particularly feared. The exception is the familiar; we tend to be less fearful of the familiar.
There is only one species of mammal who can contract every communicable disease that a human can suffer from, and yet wherever it occurs humans put themselves in contact with it with very little fear, and that species is, of course, our own. Sure there are folks who will not associate with other people without donning face masks and disposable gloves, who won’t shake hands or enter crowds and who are forever washing and spraying disinfectants, but they are a minority often considered fixated to the point of being neurotic. And yet if we contract a communicable disease, chances are in excess of 99 percent that we will have done so from another human.
The FCC mentions rabies. The number of human deaths from rabies in the United States in the past few decades is about 2.9 per year. About 75 percent of those deaths result from exposures to rabid bats. When is the last time you saw a bat fur coat? By contrast, there were 33,963 automobile deaths in the United States in 2009, and it was a good year — in a bad year, you would have to add about 10,000 more.
And how does raising tightly confined mink, foxes or chinchillas or trapping or snaring wild lynx, marten or muskrats — or anything else — control rabies? The FCC does not say, presumably assuming that few will ask, and that people are ignorant enough about the nature of both wildlife and rabies to realize how absurd the claim is.
While probably any warm-blooded animal can contract rabies, it has been recorded in few species. Apart from bats and domestic animals, major vectors (carriers) of rabies, or Rabies Vector Species (RVS), in North America include the fox, striped skunk and raccoon. It may show up in the odd bear, wolf or other species, but only very rarely. Since vaccines have been developed, including those that are effective if delivered soon enough after exposure, most human rabies deaths occur in countries where the means to provide adequate medical care are poorly developed or absent.
Rabies, like any disease, is complex and subject to change, but speaking very generally it comes in two stages. The first is so-called “dumb rabies,” which is characterized by a general lack of symptoms. This is followed by “furious rabies,” which creates symptoms that most people associate with the disease. Victims of furious rabies act irrationally, may attack other animals, humans or objects without provocation, and cannot swallow, thus cannot drink or eat.
This inability to swallow causes saliva to remain in the mouth, hence the “foaming at the mouth” classic rabies indicator. Animals don’t last long at this stage — rabies is virtually invariably fatal, and at any rate if they lived long enough they would die of thirst — but because they will lash out and bite it is this stage that is responsible for most transmission of the disease.
The majority of animals used to produce furs are kept captive, thus unlikely to be exposed to rabies. That aside, animals who have dumb rabies and can still drink and eat may be attracted to baited traps, or randomly encounter non-baited traps, but there is no particular greater likelihood of them doing so than is true of perfectly healthy animals. Thus there is simply no way that trapping with either baited or unbaited traps can control rabies in the early, “dumb” stage of its development.
Animals who have furious rabies, and thus are in pain, irrational and unable to eat or drink, will not seek food, thus are not attracted to baited traps. It is the healthy, non-rabid animals that traps are most likely to remove from the population, leaving the infectious victims of furious rabies untrapped.
Trappers have, to be sure, cooperated with wildlife management agencies in efforts designed to reduce the incidence of rabies. The trappers have done so by turning in the teeth of species targeted with oral vaccine programs. In order to test the efficacy of methodologies designed to put oral vaccines into wild populations, rabies researchers have placed tetracycline “markers” into various baits. These show up in teeth under laboratory examination and can allow the researchers to assess exactly what bait was consumed, and when.
And trap, vaccinate and release (TVR) programs have successfully controlled rabies, but the animals are, as the name of the project indicates, not killed for fur, but are released, alive, after being vaccinated against rabies. They act as buffers against the disease.
Trapping and killing animals for fur do not, and cannot, control rabies.
We do not know what other disease trapping is supposed to control, nor does the FCC say. There is no indication that trapped populations of animals are inherently healthier than non-trapped populations. There is no indication that wildlife in parks and sanctuaries where trapping is prohibited are more diseased than those where it is allowed.
Nor is there any indication that the species whose fur has commercial value, and are thus trapped, are healthier than those species whose fur has little or no commercial value, and thus are not intentionally trapped.
There is, for example, no market for porcupine or woodchuck coats, thus porcupines and woodchucks are not trapped for fur. They are, like beaver and muskrats, rodents, but they are not less-healthy rodents than beaver or muskrats. Gray and flying squirrels are in the same family as the red squirrel, but only the red squirrel is considered a fur-bearer, thus trapped (or snared). But we know of no indication that the untrapped squirrel species are more sickly than red squirrels.
In fact, one of the ecologically unfortunate aspects of trapping is that it is so heavily focused on predatory species near or at the top of the various food chains. Ironically such commonly trapped species as lynx, bobcats, mink, weasels, fishers, martens, wolverines, foxes, wolves, coyotes and even raccoons all play the important ecological role of predator, and predators function to remove the weak, sickly animals from the population.
Presumably what is being indicated by the FCC is that trapping, by reducing the absolute number of animals in the environment, creates a subsequent reduction in the absolute amount of disease. It is rather like saying that if there are a thousand people and 10 percent are sick, by killing half of the overall population disease can be reduced by 50 percent, thus reducing sickness from 100 people to only 50 people. That’s true, but surely no one would seriously suggest that mass murder controls disease.
The only other argument we think of that the FCC may be trying to make is that to the degree that disease is infectious, by reducing the absolute number of animals the population is thinned, thus there is less contact among animals, thus less spread of disease. This is like saying that people who spend a lot of times in crowds are more likely get sick than those who have little contact with other people. It may be true (if oversimplified — lack of exposure to common infectious disease can also increase vulnerability) but we suspect that animals, like people, would be willing to take their chances with crowds rather than have the population they inhabit thinned by the arbitrary killing of a percentage of the population. If this is what the FCC is thinking in making its claim, it is all the more absurd when one considers that to make a difference — to kill off enough of the population to reduce the amount of contact among individuals of the species enough to make a noticeable (statistically significant) difference in the absolute amount of disease — would require far more than the “sustainable” number the fur industry claims to maintain.
Question 2 goes on to say: “Fur farms are also environmentally sound: Fur animals recycle leftovers from our own production system (animal parts we don’t eat, poorer quality dairy products, cereals, etc.) to produce valuable products: furs, oils (to protect leather) and natural fertilizers (from composted bedding straw, manure and carcasses).”
We are not sure what “poorer quality dairy products, cereals etc.” might be — presumably food milk, eggs and grains that have gone stale or started to rot — but the real question is how does shipping this poorer quality from food farm to fur ranch assist the environment? It is not a matter of preventing waste, but to understand why, one must look at what is produced by the fur farm that is supposed to be of benefit.
Only one product is named, and that is “natural fertilizers.”
If you live where there is a recycling program that picks up organic waste, or have a composter in your yard, you will know that while most kitchen leftovers are used — from corn husks to coffee grounds to orange peels — dog and cat excrement, bones and meat are not.
Why is that? It is the same reason why, when zoos produce manure (“zoo poo”) for the market, made from the excrement of animals, they exclude that which comes from lions, tigers or wolves.
The fertilizer that you see the farmer spread on fields comes from horses, cows and other species that all have one thing in common: They are herbivores.
Carnivore excrement does not have the appropriate chemical make-up to be used for commercial fertilizer or compost, which is why it is not recommended for composts. Bones, if not dried and ground, are very slow to biodegrade to the point where their nutriments are accessible to plants, and meat attracts all manner of pathogens that can be spread by insects and rodents. Guano, as it is called, from insect- or fish-eating species such as bats and cormorants, respectively, is excellent as a source for fertilizer if properly diluted, but carnivore excrement is not.
Apart from chinchillas, most species kept in fur farms are carnivores (most commonly foxes and mink), thus are not a good source for fertilizer.
Straw bedding, when used (many caged furbearing mammals are placed on wire mesh floors, with straw bedding use greatly reserved because it is expensive to provide and clean and, when moldy, can host pathogenic fungal spores) is potentially useful as fertilizer, but shipping it from where it is produced on a food farm, to the fur farm, and then back to the food farm, increases the overall carbon footprint over having it used directly on the farm where it is produced, and thus has a net negative effect on the environment.
To suggest that an accumulation of skinned carcasses, however they are disposed of or “recycled,” somehow represents a good thing for the environment is patently absurd. They are not really suitable for fertilizer and no other use is mentioned. We knew of a falconer who once made use of the skinned bodies of trapped muskrats (it is important for birds of prey to swallow inner organs and bones to aid digestion, but they also need fur and feathers, so even he required other food sources), but we know of no general use for these products that could be considered beneficial to the environment, and the FCC gives no examples.
Fur farms are, because of the odors associated with huge accumulations of excrement and skinned carcasses, normally located in relatively isolated areas. So unless the byproduct of the industry produced a superior, instead of inferior, grade of fertilizer, economic considerations would mitigate against such use even if it did not come at an environmental cost.
The answer to Question 2 goes on to say: “While fur apparel is relatively expensive (because of the work involved in producing it), we have to remember that most of the 70,000 Canadians working in the trade are not wealthy; they are aboriginal and non-aboriginal trappers living in some of the most remote parts of our country; they are people living and working on family farms; they are artisans maintaining wonderful craft skills that have been passed on for generations.”
We’re not sure what any of this has to do with furs being “green” and FCC does not say, but we do agree with some of their contentions. Ever since its Canadian origins the fur industry has provided trappers with the low prices for furs that rapidly increased in monetary value as they moved through the system to become the final retail products. Those final products brought fortunes to the wealthy investors who had, themselves, never managed a trapline.
In retaliation, the producers learned to pool their furs to be presented in a common auction, where furs, graded by their features, such as size, quality and species, could be sold in open bidding for best prices regardless of the business acumen, or lack thereof, of the original trapper.
Laborers who work in manufacturing at the assembly line level don’t earn anywhere near what the senior management of the companies who cut their paychecks earn, but in good times, and with strong unions or progressive employers, they can hope to earn a fair wage and have steady work, although when things go bad, they are the first sacrificed. The fur industry is no different. Trappers engage in seasonal work that can be grueling and dangerous, but as the FCC admits, it cannot generate significant income. That is why, as we explained above, if such laborers are offered a better opportunity to learn new skills and earn greater money with less risk or less work, they usually will agree to it, even if it means the imposition of power-generating dams, flooded habitat, toxic tailings and other environmental damage. The Canadian landscape is dotted with such projects that employ former trappers or would-be trappers at significantly higher wages than they could ever earn on the trapline, but at a cost to the environment.
Aboriginal people are, no less than non-aboriginal people, not anxious to simply serve, for paltry wages, the needs of wealthy non-aboriginal wearers of fashion furs. It is true that doing so is a tradition, in the sense that it is a tradition for people living on the coast to catch fish, or for laborers living in the southern United States to pick share crops, or for anyone lacking the education, connections or resources to obtain jobs they enjoy, or that are lucrative, or that provide them with a chance to exercise power and influence — or all three — may have to take work that involves physical labor, personal risk and low wages, but it is not something children and students necessarily should aspire to.
All that said, for the sake of argument let us assume that the proper place for aboriginal wage-earners is not in board rooms or managers’ offices or as teachers or engineers or machinists, or health care workers or lawyers or academics or industrialists or as environmental activists, but out on the traplines, perhaps like their fathers and grandfathers. There is a certain irony that the greatest impediment to their ability to do so with any hope for fair economic returns is not the animal rights activist, as claimed by the fur industry, but the fur industry itself.
The reason is quite simple. 9 What threatens the Canadian trappers’ profits is the product of fur farms. An ever greater amount of fur that is used in fur coats, other garments and trim derives from so-called fur farms or fur ranches — facilities where animals who are wild by nature are confined in small cages, their breeding very carefully controlled to produce strains that never occur in nature, featuring furs with density and texture that is not what is best for the animals, but best for the fur industry. A trapper, working in “the most remote parts of our country,” usually must manually skin his or her victims and do initial preparation of the skins under primitive conditions far from the kind of technically driven infrastructure available to the fur farmer.
In terms of what is caught, the trapper can only access what nature provides. There are no pearl colored minks, no topal or palomino or pastel minks to be had on the trapline. The fur farms can reproduce both the natural colors of wild mink and a wide range of quite unnatural colors. Some of these colors are easier to dye, again to meet market demand, than is true of wild mink.
With regard to foxes, it is possible to breed a white form of the species known as the red fox, which creates a larger and more desirable white-furred pelt than is produced by, say, wild arctic foxes, who are white in winter. These captive animals can be better and more quickly skinned than wild-caught animals, and the skins treated to create a “product” superior to what comes from the trapline. In fact, one of the biggest demands of the fashion fur industry is for uniformity of pelt appearance among large series of pelts. It is precisely because wild foxes and mink are so variable in nature that it has been possible, through carefully selected pairing of caged animals, to produce such unnatural colors, but that genetic variability means that wild-caught animals lack the desired uniform appearance that can be produced on fur farms.
As well, fur farms are, while usually located in remote locations, nevertheless far closer to central distribution sources, such as fur auctions, than are those furs taken on traplines in truly distant, wilderness areas or “the most remote parts of our country,” far from transportation infrastructures, all of which eats up profits.
But we do not concede that there is some special purpose, social or environmental, to be served by trapping by aboriginal or any other people. The income is simply too small to assist in legitimate aboriginal concerns (including self-governance, implementation of treaty rights and compensation for truly valuable resources, as well as the serious social issues connected with such concerns) for it to be an intelligent choice to become a professional trapper.
But if fur coat buyers really think they can serve the collective interest of the aboriginal people by buying fur coats, at least they should have the option of buying furs labeled as having been produced by aboriginal trappers. The fur industry wisely resists so labeling marketed fur products because it knows that it would amount to very few, if any, of the high-end fashion furs where most profits are to be made, albeit not by trappers.
There is no question that in many parts of the fur industry there is a requirement for individual workers to develop specific skills. That is more or less true of all manufacturing, and fur garments are a manufactured, not a natural, product. But this has nothing to do with whether or not fur is “green.” The same arguments — that it is a tradition; that it requires some special skill set or artistry — also are used to rationalize other forms of animal abuse— from fox-hunting to bull-fighting, dog-fighting and forcing animals to do silly stunts in circuses. The fact that one has to learn to engage in such activities (and the skills required are open to most ordinary people) hardly justifies any abuse they cause to animals, and certainly does not make them “green.”
The answer to Question 2 concludes: “For many trappers and aboriginal communities living far from urban centers, beaver and other wild animals are part of their everyday diet. Whatever they don’t eat is returned to the forest to feed other wildlife. Nothing is wasted.”
Those animals who are not trapped are also “returned to the forest to feed other wildlife,” and more of them! FCC provides no statistics, but while there is no doubt that trappers will eat the meat from some of the animals they trap, many such animals — the majority of species trapped, in fact — are carnivorous, and have meat that ranges from low quality to inedible. Trapping is seasonal (animals must be caught when their coats are thick, and when bodies will not rot in the traps, and that means during the winter) so they are hardly a part of the “daily diet.”
Still, it would be better, environmentally, if forested habitat suitable for furbearing animal species remained protected, even if it meant there were well-regulated traplines within it, than if the traplines were removed, but the habitat was destroyed. As stated above, we know of no major instance, nor does the FCC provide any, where habitat was protected for the sake of trapping when greater profits were derived from its destruction. That said, if the argument is so valid it again begs the question of why the fur industry so heavily promotes the competition against traplines that is created by fur farms. Why are fashions so directed not toward the naturally colored fur that traplines produce, but rather toward the weird shades found in purposely bred ranched animals?