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A day in the life of a Canadian trapper

by Staff Writers
Chertsey, Canada (AFP) Feb 12, 2008
Snowshoes strapped to his feet, his mitts firmly gripping the handlebars of his snowmobile, trapper Martin Blais zips along a wooded trail in the Quebec countryside in search of pelts.

"We caught something," he exclaims after stopping, pointing to a nearby forest.

With a broad grin behind his stubbly beard, Blais traipses into the woods under a rising sun to collect his prey from a trap he set days earlier.

A frozen marten (sable), its rib cage and neck crushed by steel jaws lays motionless in the white snow. "A fine catch," he says to himself, as he wrestles his prize from the trap.

Then, he resets the device, placing a juicy bit of beaver meat at the bottom of a plastic crate attached to a stick leaning against a tree, to lure his next victim.

Nearby he spreads tufts of animal hair sprayed with a nauseating cocktail of beaver glands and spices.

Satisfied with his quarry, Blais jumps back onto his snowmobile and races through the timberland toward the next stop on his trap line set up on the outskirts of Chertsey, a small town about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Montreal.

He will skin his prey when he returns home at the end of the day.

"Twenty years ago, the pelt of a female marten like the one I just caught was worth 800 dollars (Canadian, US, 550 euros). I'll maybe get 100 dollars for this one, maybe 125 dollars if I'm lucky," he told AFP.

"Trapping as a job still exists, but because of low fur prices nowadays, there are few full-time trappers. You can count on one hand the number of people who rely on it as their primary source of revenue. Some do it to supplement their income," he said.

Indeed, industry and government sources estimate that trappers ceased being able to survive on the returns of trapping full-time in the 1980s, when pelt prices plummeted -- in large part due to animal rights campaigns that successfully cut demand.

"I can only do this as a hobby a few months of the year because it costs so much. And I can't make a living doing it because it doesn't pay enough," said Blais, who works in construction jobs most of the year.

Faced with low pelt prices, high costs of snowmobile fuel and of replacing old traps to meet new international standards for humane trapping, many trappers have been unable to secure a return on their activities.

The trapping season in Canada usually kicks off in October and ends in January. At the end of the season, many traps remain empty or are filled with dead squirrels and other unintended prey.

The accumulated knowledge of the first trappers who scoured Canada's woods for pelts 400 years ago and those who followed is still passed on from father to son, but can also be found in books and on the Internet.

"Our online forum boasts some 40 members each with 30 years experience and they are happy to share that knowledge with younger generations," Blais said gleefully.

"After six months of Web consultations, one youngster caught seven coyotes, 50 beavers, and 30 raccoons in his first season," he said.

But trapping insights are being shared freely only because the profession has become a hobby.

"It's all tied to fur prices. If I could get 400 dollars for a sable fur, the tricks of the trade would be harder to come by," Blais said.

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Drought cuts 10 percent off Australian agricultural production
Sydney (AFP) Feb 12, 2008
Drought cut 10 percent off the value of Australia's agricultural production in 2006-07, official figures showed Tuesday.

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