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Trappers reap benefits of higher fur prices

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Citizen photo by Ian Graham

Living in Harmony with Nature
Trapper Winnie Shlachetka of Wabowden shows off a wolf pelt, left and a wolverine pelt at the Thompson fur table on Dec. 17.

Prices for marten and lynx were up considerably from a few years ago at the fur table in Thompson Dec. 17-18, which meant that the trappers there selling them walked away with more cash for Christmas shopping.

The price for marten was $75 per pelt this season, up about 55 per cent from the $48.33 they were worth in December 2009. As a result, marten sales brought in $303,000 for trappers, $106,718 more than two years, ago, despite the fact that slightly fewer pelts changed hands - 4,040 in 2011 compared to 4,061 in 2009.

Lynx prices - $125 per pelt at the most recent fur table compared to $77.52 in 2009 - jumped 60 per cent, meaning that trappers realized revenues of $11,250 on sales of 90 lynx this year, $4,040 more than in 2009, when 93 were sold for $7,210.

The value of all the fur that traded hands over the two-day event was $345,843.50, more than 50 per cent higher than in 2009, when $228,289 worth of fur was sold.

Anticipation of such prices resulted in a higher first-day turnout of trappers than the fur table has seen recently, said Cherry White, administrator/treasurer of the Manitoba Trappers Association, which organizes the annual event, though overall there were just 11 more trappers this season than in 2009, when there were 168. This was despite the fact that trapping conditions have not been ideal.

"The weather conditions were poor last year," said White. "They're not that great his year but the word on the street seems to be that fur prices will be better so our trap sales have been very brisk and we've seen a fair amount of activity on the traplines. For the trappers that don't have access, they have to go across a lake or something, it's a little tough. Then if you get too much snow and the swamps don't freeze properly, that's just as bad because then, you know, the creeks don't freeze properly."

Winnie Shlachetka of Wabowden and her husband Brian were among the trappers with pelts to sell on Dec. 18 and they concurred with White's assessment of the conditions.

"We had a late season this year," said Winnie Shlachetka, who does most of her trapping just outside Wabowden at Halfway Lake. "Couldn't get out by the lake and that. Had to mostly trap on the road. It's a lot harder to trap along the highway, in the bush along the highway and that, as opposed to getting out onto the lake. We couldn't get out on the lake until close to, more to the end of November whereas before we were able to get on there before November."

Despite the difficulties, their harvest was still pretty good.

"Lots of wolves, marten, lynx," said Brian Shlachetka, who's been trapping off and on for about 10 years, and had five wolf pelts to sell. "Hopefully I get 200 bucks each."

Prices ended up lower than that, as 31 timber wolf pelts were sold for $125. Wolverines, which the Shlachetkas also had, fetched the highest price per pelt at $150 apiece, though only 11 changed hands at the fur table.

Buyers were happy to see more traffic than last year, too.

"We're very pleased with what we're seeing," said David Bewick, vice-president of Canadian wild fur operations for North American Fur Auctions, one of two consignment buyers at the fur table, along with Fur Harvesters, while the cash buyers were Bruno De Cesco of Thompson and a North West Company representative. "A lot more fur than a year ago, obviously more trappers, and I think that's a sign that the market has picked up a little bit over last year at this time and it looks like it's going to hold up another season. It would appear that there's bigger bunches of marten here, there's still a lot of people sitting here, but there seems to be more sable. The quality of the sable looks pretty good this year."

Price expectation play a role in how many pelts there are at the fur table, with trappers more inclined to get on their traplines if they think that higher prices will make it worth their while.

"I think they've just been a little more aggressive this year," said Bewick. "I think the conditions were good. They didn't start off good because they didn't get the ice and the snow but now they have good ice, they can travel, the snow is coming and, from what I'm hearing, there's a lot of marten around. It was down significantly last year but this year so far looks like it's ahead of last year."

White said from what she'd seen that the wolf population must be doing well in Manitoba.

"I've seen quite a few wolves, some of them in better shape than others," she observed. "The wolf population seems to be up. In our area (Lac du Bonnet) they've closed the moose season partly because of wolf predation but here it doesn't seem to be a problem so far. As long as the trappers keep the population stable by harvesting some of them, should be OK."

Bewick said early indicators pointed toward fur prices staying high at least for a season.

"We've seen some very positive results from some ranch sales in Scandinavia," he said. "Copenhagen just finished up a sale. The prices for ranch mink were very firm until last February which is a good indication. A lot of Chinese, some Russian attendants, Korea, so all the major markets are in the game. They're hungry for furs. I think Greece will still be an important player in the whole scheme of things and North America, too."

While full-length fur coats may go in and out of style, Bewick says there's always a demand for fur trim.

"There's a lot of trimming business in North America right now, especially with the coyotes on parkas, you know the Canada Goose," Bewick said. "Every parka gets a nice coyote trim on the hood so that market's doing very well. Anything else for trimming, too, the heavy sable, the foxes, the raccoon, the lynx, a lot of it's going to trimming. It's amazing how much fur you go through when you're trimming something."

White, who's been up to Thompson for the fur table for at least the past 15 years, says she isn't sure how many more she'll attend, but admits she feels that way every year.

"Every year I say this is my last year and then of course you come up and you see old friends and all the trappers and it renews your faith in the trapping industry but one of these days we'll have to call it quits, let some younger people take over," she said. "Nearly all of our directors are senior citizens unfortunately."

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