FUR Scarcity Through Overtrapping Impends; Conservation Needed

Not long after Columbus landed on the western shores, the traffic in North American furs began. Since that time it has continued until the fur resources of the country have been shamefully exploited. The persistence of any species in the presence of the almost overwhelming forces that tend toward its extermination is a striking natural phenomenon, and so far as the layman is concerned it completely conceals the decrease that is in reality taking place, creating the impression that there is no present or threatened danger of extreme shortage. It seems unreasonable to believe that the people of this country are not interested in perpetuating our valuable resources in fur animals, but very few seem to realize that the restoration and conservation of the fur species are as much matters for their concern as is the preservation of game, forests, and other natural resources. And not all who recognize that the supply of American raw furs is in jeopardy have a clear conception of the implications of the existing situation.

   The total annual catch of fur animals in the United States was at one time conservatively valued at $65,000,000, which was greater than Canada’s $18,000,000 and Soviet Russia’s $35,000,000 catch combined.  There are various reasons for the United States appearing as so large a producer. The great Mississippi River Basin is, as it always has been, an ideal section for wildlife, with ample cover, unfailing water supply, and plenty of food. Skunks, muskrats, and many other fur animals are found there in extremely large numbers. Although for several generations trapping has been carried on throughout the entire Mississippi Basin, in some parts of it for three centuries, the smaller fur animals in some parts have done well, chiefly because of their fecundity but also because their larger natural enemies have been, for the most part, exterminated in the region. Another reason for the great annual catch of American furs has been that there are more trappers here than in many other countries. The population of the United States is greater per square mile than that of Canada or Siberia, and the trappers are well equipped for their work in woods and waters.

Fur Decrease Causing Apprehension

Many years ago a decrease in the fur supply was indicated by the smaller relative numbers of the more valuable pelts reaching the markets, including marten, fisher, mink, and beaver. Now, the decline in the quantity of fur pelts of all kinds is causing uneasiness and apprehension among fur merchants throughout the United States and Canada. Twenty years ago the periodic decreases might have been attributed to destruction of forests by ax and fire, indiscriminate drainage of swamp land, and encroachment of civilization. The isolation that once afforded protection to many fur animals has been ended by the recent development of the automobile and airplane. The constant decline during the past decade, however, is directly attributable to overtrapping and to the staging of so-called "vermin" campaigns for destroying fur animals that obtain part of their food from birds classed as game. Another factor not without significance is the indifferent attitude of many State game commissions toward the protection of fur animals.

   It is clear that the present system of fur-animal conservation has not proved effective. The responsibility of conserving and protecting the various fur species rests chiefly with the States, but the problem is national in scope, and the seriousness of the situation calls for a coordinated Federal policy based on scientific findings. There is hope—through cooperative effort of Federal and State agencies, the fur trade, and the general public—that at least a part of this wasted heritage will be restored, thereby assuring a continuing natural supply of fur animals, with permanent occupation for trappers and for those engaged manufacture and the many ramifications of the fur trade.

Need for Protection of Breeding Stock

   There can be little doubt that when the fur business regains its normal status in American industry it will face a marked shrinkage in the supply of American raw furs. There would follow, if experience means anything, a price increase that would send every farm boy to the village for more and more traps. And then there might ensue a period not merely of scarcity but of actual lack. It was so with the buffalo; it was so with the passenger pigeon; it will be so with certain fur species—unless the fur trade itself takes a hand in protecting the breeding stock, and unless coordinated efforts, Federal and State, are made for conservation.

Frank G. ASHBROOK, Bureau of Biological Survey.