Council of Canada Misinformation (cont.)
Question 2: 'How can the use of animal (sic) to make a luxury product ever be
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
'What do you mean by saying fur is green?'
'How can I be sure the Canadian fur industry practices humane standards?'
'Are those videos going around for real?'
'Are coats in Canada made from dog and cat fur?'
'Who are the animal activist groups and what do they really want?' and the