CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's fur trappers have had quite a year.
"In the spring, the market was pretty good," said Rich Rogers, furbearer project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Demand was up, and so were prices."
At the West Virginia Trappers Association's March auction, a total of 9,291 pelts changed hands. Some species brought only average prices, but others fetched sizable amounts.
"The best species were bobcat, otter, muskrat, fisher and fox," Rogers said. "Muskrat in particular was stupendous."
More than 1,900 muskrat pelts were sold at an average price of $10.19 apiece. Bobcat pelts, at $124.60 each, enjoyed the highest average price. Despite attracting the lowest average bid - just $2.89 apiece - some 726 opossum pelts changed hands.
Rogers said the prices indicate a fairly strong overseas fur market.
"It's all supply and demand, especially overseas demand," he said. "The prices we get here in West Virginia are usually reflective of Canadian sales, because everything goes out from there."
Prices had been trending upward for more than a year, and are significantly up from 2008, when the global recession hit the fur market and sent prices tumbling.
Mountain State trappers have grown accustomed to the fur market's roller-coaster trend. In the early 1990s, European Union countries banned the import of wild-trapped pelts, a move that nearly collapsed the market.
The trend since then has been toward farm-grown fur species. Today, just 15 percent of the world's $15 billion-a-year fur trade comes from wild-trapped pelts.
Market conditions have changed dramatically since what Rogers calls "the fur boom of the late 1970s."
"Prices were insanely good back then," he said. "Raccoon hides were going for $40 apiece. You couldn't find a dead coon on the road, because people were collecting them and skinning the pelts. That's money, and people aren't going to let that lay."
In March, raccoon pelts went for $15 - not nearly as much as in the 1970s, but more than in recent months.
Ironically, the rising prices that spurred trappers to bring more pelts to the market in March will inevitably send prices back down again.
"When you get a spike in prices, demand goes up, so trappers trap more," Rogers explained. "All those pelts flood the market, and that drives the price down. It's a cycle."