Wild fur-bearing animals are a natural resource which has long provided food and clothing for man. Today, they are particularly important to those living in isolated and rural areas, enabling these communities to maintain a traditional lifestyle while earning cash income.
Provided they are carefully managed, fur-bearers can also bring benefits to other wildlife populations. For example, North American beaver dams can create an ideal habitat for many other species, rare and common.
Fur-bearers will reproduce indefinitely if their habitat is viable, allowing a harvest of the surplus year after year without threatening the survival of the species. Population and habitat management ensures their viability. This is achieved through scientific monitoring by professional wildlife biologists and governmental regulations.
An overpopulation of any species creates an ecological imbalance with widespread effects. Wildlife populations typically produce more offspring than the habitat can support on an annual basis. Without careful management, the following problems can occur:
- Impact on animals - An increase in numbers puts a strain on the available food resource and can lead to stress and starvation
- Flooding - Muskrats undermine dikes, as is the case in Belgium and Holland where trappers are paid by government to control numbers
- Land management - In the USA, recent studies by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have estimated that beaver dams cause in excess of $6 million in damages annually by flooding land, blocking drainage channels and by washing away roads, railways and bridges when dams fail; the USA as a whole costs beaver damage at $1.5 billion annually
- Disease and pest control - Management prevents the build-up of diseases that can be transmitted to domestic animals and humans. Lyme disease, giardia, round worms, mange, distemper and rabies are some examples of diseases carried by fur-bearers
Wildlife management is a government's responsibility, often implemented at local, provincial, or regional level. In North America, for example, a number of techniques and regulations are applied to ensure the conservation of species and their habitat, including:
- trapper licensing regulations
- scientific monitoring of populations
- controlled trapping seasons and, where necessary, quotas
- restrictions on the type of trapping system permitted
- trapper education programs
The fur trade provides a commercial outlet for the sustainable harvest. Without the fur industry, wildlife populations would still have to be managed but there would be a substantial cost for governments and taxpayers and no economic benefit for those who live off the land. Also animals that are removed would be wasted, which is contrary to the very concept of sustainable use.
The International Fur Trade Federation has a close working relationship with leading conservation organizations including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It has been a voting member of the latter since 1985.
The fur trade's commitment to conservation is shown by the fact that when there has been doubt that sustained yields can be maintained, it has financed research to investigate the position. The fur trade has supported any resulting recommendations to regulate/restrict trade, if based upon sound scientific evidence.
In the early 1970's prior to the introduction of CITES, the international fur trade imposed its own voluntary moratorium on trade in leopard and other species pending the outcome of scientific research into their status. Since then, IFTF has helped to finance a number of important research projects into the population status of various fur-bearers.
The IFTF is a supporter of CITES, which acts to regulate commercial trade in threatened or endangered species. The international fur trade does not handle endangered species.
"The key to abundant wildlife in coastal Louisiana is habitat. If we protect and enhance these marshlands through management, including fur animal harvest, we can ensure these renewable resources for untold generations." Greg Linscombe, biologist at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
"Habitat conservation is the key to maintaining the viability of all wildlife populations and the ecosystems on which they depend. Unlike habitat destruction, regulated trapping is a sustainable use of wildlife resources, and does not, in any way, threaten the continued existence of any wildlife population." US/Canadian Government Northeast Furbearer Resources Technical Committee.
"Aboriginal people are a part of nature in a way that very few people have ever known. We have used the animals and fish, plants and water of the earth for generations. We are nurtured by this environment. Through our livelihood, we pass on our traditional skills and values to our children. But there are human beings who have never seen this country, who wish to destroy our lives. These people have become so far removed from a natural environment that they desperately believe they should save our homeland from whatever threatens it. They do not see that they are the biggest threat. Protecting and maintaining healthy populations of fur bearing animals is more than a matter of social conscience for our people, it is a matter of our survival." The Council for Yukon Indians