Upstate NY fur trappers: It’s not about the money
(Reprinted from above link)
Shawn Coston called it his “end of the line” photo.
“Every trapper takes one,” he said.
For Coston, who lives in Stamford, N.Y. in Delaware County, the 2018-19 New York trapping season was his best year ever.
“I beat my season best of 27 beavers (I got 31),” he said. He added his previous best year for a total take was 57 pieces of fur. This year, he finished with 94.
His take from the season, which began for him this fall and ended recently included: 32 beavers, 30 muskrats, 12 fishers, six raccoons, one bobcat and one gray fox.
Not everyone had as good a year as Coston, due to early winter snow and freezing temperatures in Upstate New York, which made getting out, setting and checking on traps difficult at times.
Coston is one of the more than 10,000 licensed trappers in the state state. Those interviewed said with fur prices taking a dip in recent years, the reason they continue is not about the money. It’s more about getting outdoors in the fall and winter, the exercise, the love of the sport and the challenge, they say.
New York is one of the nation’s top producers of wild furs for the commercial fur trade, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. New York City remains a center for the production and marketing of fur garments, though, some would like to put a stop to that. Many of the wild furs provided by the state’s trappers, ultimately end up in Russian and Europe markets.
The benefits of trapping, according to the DEC, include the control of nuisance damage for fur-bearing animals, economic benefits to trappers and people involved in the fur industry and recreation for trappers.
There are 14 species of fur-bearing animals in this state and the DEC regulates trapping with seasons and regulations to ensure their numbers “are abundant and their populations are secure.”
Those who trap are required to take a trapping safety course to obtain a trapping license. The state also regulates what kind of traps can be used (those with serated edges are banned) and how often they need to be checked (every 24 hours in the Southern Zone; every 48 in the Northern Zone).
Andy MacDuff, regional wildlife manager in the DEC’s Region 6, said many Upstate New York trappers sell their furs directly to international fur agents who attend local raw fur auctions put on by trapping clubs or rod and gun clubs.
Weather-wise, he said the fall in the North Country was good for trapping up until about December,, but then got tough with the snow and ice. Conditions were more moderate in the Catskills.
“He (Coston) obviously put his time in,” MacDuff said. He added, few if any trappers do it for a living. And for those who are successful at what they do, “it’s just a nice little addition to their income.”
MacDuff and others interviewed for this story said the market for wild furs fluctuates, depending on such things as what’s fashionable and the supply of furs. Currently, the prices that trappers get for their furs is down.
For example, there has been a glut of mink thanks to over-production at fur farms in Russia and elsewhere.
“We have some of the best mink and muskrat in the country, north of the Thruway. The prices don’t show it though,” said Wayne Snell of Wilson, N.Y. a member of the Niagara County Trappers Association, who also teaches trapper education courses. Mink prices he said are currently at about $5 a pelt. As for muskrats, the big ones fetch around $5, the smaller ones, average $3.
He added that 7 to 8 years ago muskrat pelts got $14-15, and mink was up to $20. “The market goes up and down fast,” he said.
One bright spot in the recent fur market is coyote fur. Trappers can make up to $25 for a good pelt. Their fur is in demand as lining around the hoods of parkas, Snell said. The fur lines the area around your face and won’t freeze, he added.
The trapping seasons vary, depending on the animal and the part of the state – with most starting in the fall and extending into February. The beaver trapping season, though, ends anywhere from March 15 to April 7, depending on the region.
Beavers can create problems with damming waterways and flooding farmer’s lands and other properties, in addition to downing trees.
Les Wedge, of Sempronius, an aquatic biologist and retired DEC Regional 7 fisheries manager, said he traps beaver “to help trout streams out.” He also likes the exercise the gets while trapping.
“They dam up my favorite streams, preventing trout from migrating and spawning. They also silt up the spawning habitat,” he said.
His luck this past season?
“I got a dozen. If I average $10 a pelt, I’m happy,” he said.
Coston also confirmed the money he gets from trapping isn’t why he does it.
“No money in furs nowadays. Fishers and bobcats bring good money, though. I will be lucky to make my gas back,” he said.
“The hours don’t matter. I have the time during the winter and it keeps me busy. “I try to make a living off the land. Between furs, ginseng, honey and maple syrup, I do OK,” he said.