When I was in high school back in the mid-70s trapping and selling furs was a profitable business. I dabbled in it when I was in high school and college, and I made a little spending money. I also set my traps so that the animals drowned quickly and didn’t suffer.
I realize I grew up in the north where harsh winters made for high quality pelts. Here in eastern North Carolina fur from foxes, raccoons and muskrats isn’t quite as valuable. That’s only part of the story.
Once the animal rights movement began to take hold in the 1980s the market began to dry up. A lot of people today think it’s a good thing. My feelings are mixed.
I do admit that many trappers weren’t very concerned about humanely harvesting their furs. Allowing animals to suffer is unacceptable. They also wasted the meat which in some cases is very good. Muskrats are excellent. Raccoons can be greasy but many people find them tasty.
There’s a dirty little secret that many animal rights enthusiasts either don’t know or don’t want people to hear. Ever since the fur industry took a nosedive, human, pet and wildlife interactions have increased and results have not been positive. Rabies is just one example. Don’t take my word for it; look it up.
Wildlife killing pets is a problem that was rarely seen in my youth. Killing cats is no challenge for a mink or a fisher. Raccoons generally don’t bother cats. They’re smart animals that might realize harming a pet cat might make them a target of humans. They have no problem wiping out chickens though.
Recently, reports of coyotes attacking pets have risen. Pets are easy pickings for many wildlife species. As we continue to encroach into areas inhabited by wildlife we can expect more encounters.
I don’t have a problem with harvesting wildlife. I do have a problem with killing wildlife and not using them. Wildlife are renewable resources and if managed properly can help the economy and we can maintain stable healthy populations.
There are instances when thinning the population of certain species can be a good thing. For example, years ago beavers were hunted and trapped nearly to extinction. That was an excess and poor management. Now in some places they are pests and cause flooding that is costly. How can we control their population in good conscience if using their fur is unacceptable?
I trust our wildlife professionals to set reasonable seasons and limits to keep populations healthy and in balance. I hate to see wildlife wasted. Taking the life of an animal for no reason is wrong, but learning to be self-sufficient and conserve resources is a valuable skill.
I’m sure this column will make me some enemies, but it’s a topic many are afraid to defend. Our society has become less rural and many of those skills are now not considered in vogue. Still, I look back to my youth fondly and am glad I grew up when I did. Those days and the fur industry are pretty much gone.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.