Conservation through Science under God

COVID concerns shouldn't impact trapping and fur harvesting
Dec 16, 2020 06:45 ET

[Reprinted from original]

COVID-19 has invaded just about every aspect of life in 2020, so it should come as no surprise that those who enjoy trapping and fur harvesting are not off the proverbial hook or in this case, snare.

The good news, however, is with a little forethought it shouldn't have too big an impact on their plans as long as they take precautions, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources Furbearer and Small Game Specialist Adam Bump.

Concerns started after reports of Denmark culled millions of mink from the various farms in the country to stop the spread of a potentially dangerous mutation of COVID-19 after multiple Danish people became infected.

Bump said researchers are learning some species of wildlife and domestic animals can contract the disease and they are now trying to keep track of those species as well as learn how often they get it and how it is transferred.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 to people. However, reports from infected mink farms in the Netherlands and Denmark suggest that in these environments there is the possibility for the spread of COVID-19 from mink to humans, according to the CDC.

With the mink, Bump said there are a couple of things people need to keep in mind. First and foremost is the concentration of the animals on the farm that are being bred and raised for their fur.

"The mink does show they are susceptible to the disease and where they have positive mink on farms they have started researching them to see if they also are seeing COVID around the facility," he said.

While there is the risk for mink to be infected, Bump said the risk to wild mink seems low. That said, Bump also knows more research has to be conducted and it may be too early to tell the full impact and potential of spread.

As for trappers in Michigan who seek out the mammals, Bump said he doesn't believe there need to be any additional precautions taken other than what trappers and fur harvesters already do except for wearing a mask if they are so inclined.

"Wear gloves and be careful when processing. Look for signs of diseases," he said. "If you are trapping mink take precautions. We (Michigan) don't have any cases in wild mink. Use the normal precautions and other than that just enjoy yourself."

For more than 50 years, Reed City area resident Ed Lundborg has been trapping and he doesn't have any additional concerns regarding the recent realization regarding mink and the mammal's susceptibility to COVID-19.

The nearly 70-year-old said he started when he was 14. His education started in a one-room country school until he started attending high school. As a freshman, he became friends with a group that had been taught trapping by their fathers. It was those friends who got him into trapping.

He said he caught his first coyote in 1968 and he has been trapping the canines ever since. Although there have been concerns raised about COVID-19 and trapping/fur harvesting mink, Lundborg said he is not too concerned.

As a member of and sits on various boards including for the Michigan Trapper and Predator Callers Association, Northern Great Lakes Fur Harvesters and National Trappers Association, Lundborg is tuned-in to what is happening within the sport.

While Lundborg traps recreationally and because it is a good outdoor pursuit, he said the concerns over COVID-19 is just another hurdle those who harvest fur as a business need to overcome.

"There is not much harvesting going on right now. Our borders are closed and a whole bunch that was harvested are in cold storage," he said. "The prices are not good either and I don't know if mink will be marketable this year. That is a big concern of the people who are harvesting the animals."

Currently, Lundborg said the only pelts with any type of demand are coyote and muskrat. He said he isn't sure if a trapper could even give away a raccoon pelt right now. He said the demand for fur is not there domestically and most fur that is harvested goes overseas to Asian countries such as China as well as other countries with harsh cold such as Russia.

When it comes to mink, Lundborg said it was overproduced. The prices got high and, as a result, farms started producing more mink and flooded the market.

Because trappers/fur harvesters already are supposed to wear surgical gloves and take extra precautions when handling the animals, Lundborg said he doesn't believe COVID-19 poses any additional risks.

"Those animals are not breathing anymore and the chances of catching something is minimal," he said. "There is always a risk, but I think the risk of being bitten is higher than contracting something from the animal. Rabies or something like that is something more dangerous that is out there."

Michigan has 17 species of furbearers that may be harvested. The term “furbearer‘ generally applies to those species which have historically been harvested for their fur, according to the DNR. Furbearers found in Michigan are badger, bobcat, fisher, marten, red and gray fox, coyote, weasels, mink, raccoon, muskrat, beaver, otter, skunk, and opossum.

For a full list of which furbearers are in season and where they can be harvested go to www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/michigan_fur_harvester_digest_625943_7.pdf.

The current fur harvester license is valid from May 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021.