North American Wild Fur
Ensuring population and environmental sustainability is key to how wild fur is harvested. The system of checks and balances operates at local, state, regional and provincial levels of government and also through far-reaching international agreements.
Wild fur in North America is subject to a wide-ranging system of laws, regulations, checks and controls that emphasise the sustainability and welfare of all fur-bearing species and protect endangered species. Ensuring population and environmental sustainability is key to how wild fur is harvested. The system of checks and balances operates at local, state, regional and provincial levels of government and also through far-reaching international agreements. It is necessarily complex as it spans different agencies, species, range-states, environments and national borders.
As a result of the different reasons for trapping, 100 percent of the wild fur harvest from North America is part of government wildlife management programmes. These programmes are controlled by government, whether by species, by seasons, or by quotas, to name a few. Anything that is harvested outside of government wildlife management programmes would be illegal and not be permitted to be sold through the two auction houses in North America, both of which are located in Canada.
The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS), which is a trilateral agreement between Canada, the EU and Russia, along with the parallel agreement between the EU and US, ensures that animal welfare is paramount in the wild fur harvest. Canada and the US both comply with the terms of the aforementioned international agreements and meetings.
The relevant government must also monitor harvests to sustain healthy population levels in balance with habitats.
More than 4.5 million fur pelts are harvested annually in North America. Wild fur generates over $80 million for the harvesters. The absence of this trade would trigger dramatic increases in the populations of pelt-bearing species, posing a potential nuisance in some areas.
Fur trapping in North America is a key activity for wildlife workers responsible for animal protection and conservation. Their work is both regulated and supported by law. It includes:
- Protecting, monitoring and managing endangered species
- The reintroduction of species into their original habitats
- Public safety
- The prevention of damage to property by wildlife
- The protection of crops and domesticated animals from destruction by wildlife
- Disease management to protect human and animal health
- Controlling invasive species
- The harvest of fur to be used in the international fur trade
TRAPPING SUPPORTS RURAL LIFESTYLES
Many harvesters depend on pelt money for their livelihood and, in many cases, entire rural and indigenous communities rely on this income for their economic viability. Trapping also has a big cultural significance and is essential for many areas to retain their identity and traditions.
More than 23 different species from the wild fur aspect of the international fur trade. Trappers are required by law to adhere to strict rules, which include:
- Mandatory licensing
- Restricted seasons, these vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction
- Agreed quotas to which trappers must adhere
- The trapping of specific species designated as ‘abundant’
- Adherence to local, state or provincial rules on trapping
- The use of mandatory and regulated trapping devices and systems
- Attendance of local, state or provincial educational programmes
- Trapping in designated areas only
- Adherence to mandatory trap check laws
Wild Fur Statement of Principles
Wild Fur programmes vary widely depending on region, species and local factors. In North America, a wide range of state, provincial, territorial and federal rules are well established in order to cover these variable factors. Meanwhile, globally recognized standards include:
- Two international organizations to control standards (ISO)
- The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)
- The USA – EU Agreed Minute
- Best Management Practices (BMPs)
- All state, provincial or federal laws and regulations on trapping fur-bearing animals
All programmes detail different rules for each species. Wild fur programmes are science-based and verified by independent experts who continuously improve and test traps and trapping systems. They are outlined below.
- In the USA, over 70 federal and state fish and wildlife agency professionals are involved in maintaining and improving standards. They include wildlife biologists, wildlife researchers, mechanical engineers, statisticians, foresters and wildlife technicians with expertise in the capture of wild fur-bearing species.
- More than 1,200 expert trappers and wildlife professionals have participated in field projects. Over 300 individual field projects have been conducted across 41 states.
- In Canada, a state-of-the-art facility has tested 612 types of traps on 17 species in both field and controlled environment tests. Projects have been conducted in six provinces, one territory and in three states. Over 100 trappers and technicians have been involved in the programme since the 1980s.
- In the USA, 400 types of traps have been tested, including foothold traps, body grip traps, cage traps and live restraint snares. These tests have resulted in the development of 23 species-specific Best Management Practices.
- The North American wild fur programmes have been independently verified. Universities and veterinary pathologists have provided expertise in the study of dead and captured animals to help evaluate criteria based on the ISO protocol. Meanwhile, radiologists and mechanical engineers have helped to evaluate trap parameters, and computer simulation modeling has been employed in trap design.
WILD FUR VERIFICATION PROGRAMMES ARE CREDIBLE AND IMPARTIAL
The following Universities and experts have participated in the development and continuous improvement of the North American programmes:
- USA: Cornell University. Ithaca, New York; The University of Georgia (Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study Center and Veterinary Science School); Athens, Georgia; The University of Wyoming (Veterinary School); Laramie, Wyoming; The University of Missouri (Engineering Department and Veterinary School); Columbia, Missouri. Mississippi State University; Starkville, Mississippi; The University of Texas, San Antonio, Texas; The University of Arizona, Tempe, Arizona.
- CANADA: Trent University, University of Ottawa, University of Prince Edward Island, University of Victoria, University of Montreal, Guelph University, Universite de Montreal, Universite du Quebec a Rimouski, Canadian Wildlife Health Center (UPEI, University of Calgary), Trent University, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria, etc.
OVERSIGHT OF PROGRAMMES
Trappers in North America are required to acquire a trapping licence and comply with comprehensive harvesting regulations.
Conservation officers monitor and enforce state, provincial, and territorial trapping regulations by visiting trappers, conducting routine field patrols and inspecting trap lines. Government agencies also record, monitor, regulate, and inspect wild fur harvests and shipments.
Canada has more than 1,400 Wildlife Conservation or Enforcement Officers and the USA has 8,500.
It is their job to enforce all of North America’s regulations for the protection of wildlife. They work directly in the field, on a full-time basis, and have the power to lay charges against lawbreakers and to directly enforce all hunting and trapping activities.
In addition to this number, there are federal fisheries officers, guardian programmes, police, stakeholder support workers and justice and wildlife or environmental management staff. They all work to administer programmes and enforce regulations on a daily basis.
The fur trade is subject to thorough licensing, permitting and regulation by state, provincial, territorial and federal wildlife management agencies and by border trade control authorities. From the trapper harvesting on the land to the buyers, wholesale dealers, auction houses, importers and exporters; every single step of the trade is strictly controlled.
Regulations include the following:
- National, state, provincial legislation (Endangered Species Acts)
- State, provincial, territorial wild- life acts and regulations
- Regulation of trade through the Customs/Lacey Act, CITES( 3 ), WAPRITA (Canada Wildlife Trade Legislation)
- Regulations on various federal agency properties
(3) the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Spiecies of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Online links to specific state and provincial trapping and wildlife harvesting requirements can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website of each state, territory and province.
Science-based and peer-reviewed studies and tests on traps, trapping systems, furbearers and management systems are simply too numerous to list.
1) Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards
The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) is an agreement between Canada, the European Union (EU) and Russia. It ensures the highest possible animal welfare standards for traps used in those countries, affecting a total of 19 different wild animal species. Under AIHTS rules, traps must be approved by the appropriate authorities and they must conform to AIHTS standards. More than 600 trap designs have been rigorously tested under AIHTS in Canada since it was ratified in 1999. The agreement guarantees trade of specific wild animal species between signatory nations, providing the trap standards outlined in it are adhered to. The United States (US) has a separate, but similar, agreement with the EU.
2) Agreed Minute
In 1997, the US and the EU signed an ‘Agreed Minute’ on humane standards for the trapping of fur-bearing animals. The Agreed Minute represents an international treaty commitment between the US and the EU. The Agreement on International Humane Trap Standards (AIHTS) continues to identify humane methods for the capturing of fur-bearing animals based upon strict performance evaluations. The Agreed Minute reflects the US and EU commitment to the principles of the AIHTS. To comply with this agreement, the US has developed Best Management Practices to scientifically evaluate traps and trapping systems. Animal welfare is always the priority, along with safety, efficiency, selectivity, and practicality. Results of this research are provided to the general public, trappers, regulatory authorities and to state and federal wildlife agencies.
3) Best Management Practices
Best Management Practices (BMP) scientifically evaluate traps and trapping systems. These tests are continuously undertaken in over 40 USA states. They are species-specific and adapted for regional differences.
For the purpose of developing these BMPs, trap performance criteria, or thresholds, have been established by the Furbearer Conservation Technical Work Group of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). These thresholds were based on the 1997 understanding reached between the EU and the US (EU/US Agreed Minute), with input from wildlife biologists and wildlife veterinarians. They provide a common framework for evaluating progress towards the use of more humane traps and trapping methods.
4) Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species
The Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES) is another international agreement that regulates elements of the fur trade. Under CITES, species in trade that might be harmed by overexploitation are carefully monitored and regulated to ensure international guidelines are followed. Most of the CITES-regulated North American fur-bearing species in trade are secure and not endangered, but they are listed under Appendix II of CITES. This is simply because they are considered ‘lookalike’ species, meaning that they are similar in appearance to species which are endangered in other parts of the world. Under CITES, the importing country can request a certificate of origin that demonstrates compliance.
5) ISO Standards
The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has developed two international, science-based trap standards to test restraining and killing devices. The ISO is comprised of 162 members, each being the sole representative of their country. These standards outline how traps should be tested, regardless of the reason for trapping.
Key parts of the standards include:
- Providing testing methods for the performance evaluation of traps in the key areas of: capture efficiency, animal welfare, selectivity and user safety
- Sampling sizes for devices tested
- Definitions of words
- Trauma scales and classification of injuries
- Length of time to death for devices that kill
- Mechanical testing of trapping devices
- Compound and field testing protocols
- Pathology protocols
Definition of the ISO standards 10990-4 and 10990-5. ISO 10990-4 addresses the methods for testing killing-trap systems used on land or underwater. ISO 10990-5 covers methods for testing restraining traps. These ISO standards are integral to all the work done in North America to meet the commitments under the AIHTS and the Agreed Minute.
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Best Management Practices for Trapping in the United States is available online at:
A Guide for Trappers in the United States:
Safety-Animal Welfare-Responsibility-Furbearer Conservation (2005). Published by The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and available online at:
fur.ca/certified-traps/Canadian AIHTS certified traps
Canadian Best Trapping Practices Document:
TRACKING AND TRACING PELTS
Protection, management and fur harvesting varies across US states, Canadian provinces and territories across North America. Professional wildlife managers adopt and implement regulations based on the scientific understanding of regional wildlife populations. Recognising these differences, wild fur harvesters normally require a mandatory trapping licence that relates to their specific area and species.
Through the course of a trapping season, this licence allows a trapper to harvest various species within the regulations. Law enforcement officers can inspect their trap lines or catch at any time. Within this same legal framework, pelt dealers must also purchase a licence and register with their state, provincial or territorial authority.
During, or at the end of, the trapping season, trappers have a multitude of options through which to sell their pelts. These options include (but are not limited to):
- Auction companies
- State, provincial and territorial trapper auctions
- Pelt dealers
- Private use, sale
The transfer of custody of wild fur starts once the trappers choose where to sell their fur. Trappers are required by law to provide the seller with their contact information, trapping license number, as well as a log of the number of species being sold. Once the sale takes place, this documentation will be associated with each pelt throughout the supply chain until reaching the auction house or pelt dealer.
Wild fur trappers who choose to send their furs to the auction houses do so on a consignment basis. Before sorting and grading, each wild fur pelt is identified with a bar-coded ticket that can be traced back to the individual trapper or source from which the pelts came and, once sold, forwarded to the fur purchaser.
These records and databases are maintained and updated regularly and allow the auction houses to:
- Keep track of the origin of the fur and its status in the auction process Ensure the sale of fur is properly invoiced
- This ensures that each trapper is fully compensated for the furs that he or she has provided, once they have been sold.
- By law and regulation, collected raw fur pelts must be documented regardless of their position in the supply chain. Meanwhile, special permits are required for CITES Appendix II species.