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Trappers looking to take advantage of 'mini fur boom'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With West Virginia's trapping season underway, trappers are probably wondering how many pelts they'll collect and how much buyers will be willing to pay for those pelts.

The answer to the first question depends largely on weather and the amount of time trappers spend maintaining and running their trap lines. The second question is easier to answer.

"It looks like all the prognosticators are saying we're in a mini fur boom," said Rich Rogers, furbearer project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "If they're right, prices should stay high for at least a few years."

Rogers said the last couple of years have been good to Mountain State trappers.

"Prices for just about everything have been up, and there's every indication they're going to stay there for a while," he said. "With that in mind, I'd say next year's first fur sale, in March, will be pretty exciting."

Data from game-check tags and last year's fur sales indicated high harvest levels for all furbearer species. Overall, harvests weren't as high in 2012-13 as they were in 2011-12.

Beaver and bobcat were the only two species that showed increases, probably because their pelts tend to draw high prices. Rogers said when prices for certain species rise, trappers tend to focus on those species.

"Lately the high-dollar pelts have been bobcat and gray fox. And muskrat prices have been very high for such a small animal," he explained.

The fur boom is coming at a good time for trappers. At a time when the economy is so poor, trapping gives its practitioners an opportunity to make much-needed cash.

Last year, trappers in West Virginia sold 36,482 pelts. More than half (18,606) were raccoon pelts. Other top sellers included muskrat, 5,909; opossum, 2,009; bobcat, 1,994; coyote, 1,886; beaver, 1,742; gray fox, 1,701; and red fox, 1,680.

A total of 192 river otters were trapped during the 2012-13 season, a slight decline from 2011-12's inaugural harvest of 192.

An increasing market for otter pelts, and correspondingly high prices, have spurred trappers to ask DNR officials for an increase in the current one-otter yearly limit. Rogers said agency officials are reluctant to do that.

"With a stable harvest, increasing pelt prices and lack of survival data, this will not happen," he wrote in the current edition of the state's Furbearer Management Newsletter.

To compile the needed survival data, biologists would need to first determine survival rates by examining female otters' reproductive tracts and the canine teeth from both male and female otters.

So far, though, few trappers have taken the time to turn in carcasses of the otters they've trapped, even though DNR officials have offered to come and pick them up.

Rogers and his colleagues know that the current demand for furs has the potential to deplete furbearer populations.

"The more [trapping] pressure there is, the less opportunity there will be in the future because so many animals are being caught," Rogers said. "That said, no one should worry that any species are in danger of disappearing. There simply aren't enough trappers in West Virginia to make that happen."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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