Minnesota trappers see boom year as fur prices rise
NEAR GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. -- Joe Edminster leans over the fleshy side of a 3-foot-long beaver skin in his garage north of Grand Rapids. The 66-year-old power company retiree uses a long and very sharp knife to trim away a thin layer of meat and fa...
NEAR GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. -- Joe Edminster leans over the fleshy side of a 3-foot-long beaver skin in his garage north of Grand Rapids. The 66-year-old power company retiree uses a long and very sharp knife to trim away a thin layer of meat and fat from the fur pelt.
"See how nice that comes off?" Edminster said. "Just shaves off perfect."
Edminster figures he's processed about 10,000 beavers in his lifetime. Tabletops in his work area hold piles of pelts, including muskrats, a couple of bobcats, a coyote, gray and red foxes and beavers. There are 160 more beaver skins sitting in a chest freezer waiting to be processed.
Edminster isn't alone; nearly 10,000 people in Minnesota bought trapping licenses this season, more than any time in the past 25 years.
Fur prices are up this year, so that makes it a boom time for trappers. Furs worth millions of dollars recently were sold at an international auction house in Toronto. But trapping, a way of life for people like Edminster, isn't without controversy.
In Edminster's garage, hundreds of metal traps of all sizes are piled neatly against the far wall. It's that kind of equipment that makes some people charge that trapping is a cruel and inhumane way for wild animals to die.
Trapping is a business, Edminster said.
"You can make good money. Last year I made about $20,000 trapping. I think I sold 354 beaver on one sale and 178 on another sale," he said. "We had our martin, fisher, a bunch of coon, some muskrats. We had a bunch of otter between me and the wife."
Edminster's wife, Barb, is a full partner in their business; they've been married more than 40 years. Their rural home is decorated with furs and traps hanging on the walls. Their basement is like a museum, with more than 600 traps on display. Some are antiques dating back to the late 1700s.
The rise in fur prices is the biggest cause of trapping's rise in popularity in Minnesota. Pelts from muskrats -- the state's most commonly trapped furbearer -- used to sell for $3 to $5 apiece. But in the past few years the price has tripled.
Last season, trappers killed more than 350,000 muskrats, nearly double the usual annual harvest.
Joe Edminster keeps close tabs on the fur industry. He's a broker for the Toronto-based North American Fur Auctions, the largest fur seller on the continent and the third-largest fur auction house in the world.
In mid-January each year, he travels around Minnesota picking up animal pelts from hundreds of trappers. The hides are sent to auction in Toronto, and the company sends those trappers a check when the sale is complete.
Last year Edminster alone brokered nearly $3 million in fur sales. In total, the state Department of Natural Resources estimates fur sales from Minnesota brought in nearly $5 million. Most pelts from Minnesota are shipped overseas.
Trapping still targeted
In the 1970s and '80s, anti-fur campaigns suppressed demand for fur in this country. Animal rights groups continue to protest regularly against fur trapping. They say the practice is a form of animal cruelty and worry that some species could be hurt by over-trapping.
There recently has been more controversy around trapping in Minnesota. Dog owners complain their pets or hunting dogs have been caught and killed in a type of trap called a body gripper.
Last year, the Legislature tightened regulations on body-gripping traps, which now have to be enclosed. Dog advocates are back at the Capitol this session asking lawmakers to tighten the rules even more, by requiring the traps be elevated at least 4 feet off the ground. Some trapping groups oppose the measure.
DNR officials say the number of trappers in the state jumped 20 percent from last year, and it's the highest it's been since the 1988-89 season.
Jason Abraham, a furbearer specialist with the DNR, said trapping has become more mainstream, especially in rural areas.
"It's a highly regulated activity," Abraham said. "We have 130-some conservation officers throughout the state that enforce regulations that are based on the best science that we have available."