Trapping a ‘chosen lifestyle’

·4 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — An educational campaign aimed at informing the public about trapping has been started in the province by the Ontario Fur Managers Federation, including billboards installed in Thunder Bay.

“I think it’s really positive and good on the trappers for creating this billboard education campaign because it has an (important) educational component,” said trapper John Kaplanis, executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance and a member of the Northwestern Fur Trappers Association and the Ontario Fur Managers Federation.

Kaplanis says trapping is what he calls a “chosen lifestyle” that fits well for him and his family. They live in the North and enjoy taking responsibility for their own food and even trapping for some of the garments that they wear, sell or trade for income.

“A portion of the fur that I trap are marketable furs that I send off to auction for sale, as trappers do,” he said. “I also have, in recent years, been keeping some of my furs for personal use to have garments made, but also to share with some of my friends. I have a large number of Indigenous friends who have been asking for furs for their traditional crafts and handiwork. It’s an interesting relationship that I certainly enjoy sharing with those friends.”

Kaplanis recognizes the importance of maintaining wildlife populations to keep a balance in the forest. He says fur-bearing animals suffer the “ups and downs” of overpopulation dynamics, and subsequently, trappers are able to manage fur-bearer numbers effectively. He says trappers play a significant role in managing populations of beavers and wolves.

“And this is no different than sustainable use of our forests here in Northern Ontario,” he said. “Forestry is a highly valued industry in Northern Ontario, not without its own controversies, obviously, but you have to realize that forests grow up and they become over mature and they die and they become susceptible to forest fire. It’s kind of similar with fur-bearers.

“These animals don’t live forever. They have very short lifespans. And in that period of time, they do have the ability to become very abundant in population. Trappers are able to utilize the surplus of the population to an economic advantage.”

There are also many unrecognized economic advantages that don’t get highlighted, he says, saying some of those include infrastructure, railroads, highways and hydro lines, which are often impacted by things like beaver dams and flooding.

He says trappers play an important role in preventing the huge liability costs to these industries.

“Those types of values you really can’t apply a (monetary) figure to, but certainly to those industries and agencies, trappers are a valuable tool in protecting these massive billion-dollar infrastructure systems that we rely on so heavily here in North America.”

In terms of profit, Kaplanis says beaver is the cornerstone of the fur-market industry.

“In Canada, it really is,” he said.

“Historically, trapping beavers in North America and particularly Canada was recognized as being the first industrial operation that occurred on the continent. To this day, beaver fur is still valuable on the international market for garments. Trappers are able to acquire beaver in Canada, because they’re very abundant, they reproduce very frequently and they’re managed very well on trappers’ register trap lines.”

Every trapper is required to trap a number of beavers per year on their quota. He says the Ministry of Natural Resources encourages trappers to go out and catch a given number of beavers depending on the size of the registered trapper’s line.

The fur market has suffered over the years and while trappers continue to trap, their fur values may not realize the profits that they did 10 or 15 years ago in the fluctuating market.

Kaplanis plans to trap again this year in hopes that the market improves in the spring and his furs will be valued.

“Trappers in the modern sense, have demonstrated tremendous compassion in their craft in that they participate and comply with a host of standards and legislation requirements that dictate that their trapping practices be conducted in a very humane manner.

“When trappers and hunters continue to push the bar on the standards, the laws and the regulations that govern their activities, and when they’re the ones that are complying with those laws and legislative requirements, and push for more, I think the rest of the world has to recognize that for what it is and it’s to maintain the humanity that goes along with these activities.”

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal