Lynx sacrified to free trade and leghold trapping

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:

WASHINGTON D.C.––The Department
of Commerce and U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service have escalated efforts to avert the long
pending European Union ban on imports of pelts
which might be taken by leghold trapping––and
the U.S. population of Canadian lynx may
become the first species extirpated by the Bill
Clinton/Albert Gore administration defense of
free trade at any cost, as on May 23 the USFWS
ruled in that an endangered species listing of the
lynx is “warrented but precluded” by other priorities.
The ruling came in response to a
March 27 verdict by U.S. District Judge Gladys
Kessler that the USFWS did not properly weigh
the evidence that the lynx is endangered in
refusing to list it in 1994.
Officially, the so-called other priorities
precluding listing the lynx involve a backlog
of other species awaiting listing. Unofficially,
the USFWS top priority may be avoiding the
necessity of protecting the lynx from hunting,

trapping, and pelt export. Though lynx are recognized
as threatened by the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species, they
are still legally trapped throughout their remnant
U.S. range––parts of just four of the 21 states
where they once occurred. Their pelts fetch the
highest price at auction of any legally trapped
North American mammal.
Furs for dolphins
Central to the Clinton/Gore administration
defense of leghold trapping is the contention
that it has not jeopardized the survival of
species, and that the European Union ban is
therefore a trade barrier governing how an item
may be produced, called a “process standard,”
not legitimate environmental protection. Thus
contending, the Clinton/Gore administration has
threatened to appeal the EU ban to the World
Court, if it ever actually is imposed. Process
standards are forbidden by the General Agreement
on Trade and Tariffs. Mexico and other
tuna-exporting nations hold likewise that the
U.S. “dolphin-safe” tuna import requirement is a
“process standard,” as a GATT tribunal ruled in
1991. The Clinton/ Gore administration favors a
bill to erase the “dolphin-safe” requirement,
pending in the Senate after clearing the House in
May. A similar bill cleared the House but lost
in the Senate during the last Congress.
revealed in April, acting USFWS Division of
Refuges chief Stan Thompson suggested to “all
Refuge Managers” that they should find ways to
illustrate the alleged value of leghold trapping in
protecting endangered species, specifically to
help fight the EU trapped pelt import ban.
On June 20, meanwhile, the EU environmental
ministers rejected a weak agreement
Canada and Russia had reached with the
European Commission to phase out some uses
of leghold trapping during the next 30 months.
Proponents were expected to seek another vote
later in the summer. The proposed deal, consistent
with others offered over the years, chiefly
committed Canada to further research so-called
humane alternatives to leghold trapping.
Canada has already heavily funded such
research for decades without producing anything
acceptable to both trappers and humane groups.
The U.S. had held out for a weaker
deal yet, on the pretext that regulating trapping
is a state right, not under federal control.
Recent state actions have gone either
way. Connecticut governor John Rowland on
June 27 signed into law HB 6577, barring nuisance
wildlife trappers from killing animals by
cruel methods, including drowning and injection
by paint thinner, favored by trappers who
want to sell undamaged pelts. The new law also
requires trappers to take a course in preventing
animal suffering. In Connecticut, and elsewhere,
fur trappers have often moved into nuisance
wildlife trapping, both to increase their
income and to gain access to trapping territory.
In New York, however, trapping supporters
in the State Assembly are once again
close to legalizing the use of snares to kill
beavers and extending the interval that may
elapse between checking traps to see if any animals
are caught. Similar bills were narrowly
beaten in 1995 and 1996.
[Letters requesting a veto if such leg –
islation clears the Assembly may be sent to Gov.
George Pataki, c/o Michael Finnegan,
Executive Chamber, State Capitol, Albany, NY
12224. New York residents should also address
their own representatives.] Prices, profits
Speculation that the pending trap ban
may finally take effect after repeated postponements
stoked the prices paid at international
auction for U.S.-trapped wild furs. Raccoon,
beaver, and muskrat pelt prices reportedly more
than doubled during the winter of 1996-1997
––and the number of active trappers in the U.S.
nearly doubled as well, recovering from a
recent low of about 95,000 in 1994 to almost
200,000. This was still well below the 330,000
trappers active a decade ago, however, with
small chance the boom will be sustained.
Missouri trappers, in the first legal
otter season since the state Department of
Environmental Conservation was formed in
1937, killed 1,040 otters out of a reintroduced
population estimated at 3,000 to 4,000, along
with a state record 1,235 bobcats with three
counties yet to report. However, the high-end
pelt market proved soft, as the average otter
price at international auction fell from $54 in
1995-1996 to just $40 in 1996-1997.
The trapping resurgence was limited
to the U.S., reported George Clements,
cofounder of the 44-year-old Canadian-based
Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing
Animals. “Since 1990,” Clements wrote, “the
Canadian fur trapping total has remained close
to one million animals per year––down from the
usual five million animals prior to then. If the
leghold trap ban is implemented, we hope the
one million total can be quickly reduced.”
Even without the ban, Clements noted
that “This past season’s trapping totals look to
be down another 20% or so.”
U.S. retail furriers who survived the
shakeout of the past decade theoretically might
have done a higher dollar volume last winter,
serving larger shares of the dwindling customer
base––if unit sales had held close to even. The
exhaustion two years ago of the stockpiled fur
glut left by the 1988-1991 retail crash meant furriers
started out last winter asking as much as
30% to 40% more per coat.
But the rising dollar volume––if there
was one––wasn’t reflected in the 1996 sales figures
posted by the Evans Inc. and Birger
Christensen fur chains, which according to
industry sources together account for circa 15%
of all U.S. retail fur sales. If this is true, the
1996 retail volume dropped from $1.2 billion in
1995 to $850 million, or less.
Predictably, Commerce Department
data showed January 1997 fur imports fell 36%
from January 1996, reflecting a significant
slump between Thanksgiving and Christmas
period, when more than two-thirds of all fur
sales are made, amounting to about 80% of the
annual dollar volume. Mink imports, the most
indicative figure, fell 47%.

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