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Trappers’ season ending winds up left in the cold

Prolonged cold through the past winter may seem like good conditions for fur harvesting and wearing, but marketing and weather conditions saw a so-so ending to what promised to be a good year for raw and finished hides and pelts.

Ron Schroder, retired DEC wildlife biologist and lots handler for Genesee Valley Trappers Association auctions held at Honeoye, pointed out both economic and winter factors may have contributed to a weakening fur market at the end of the fur auction season.

“As bad as the winter was here, they only had a mild winter in Russia and China, where so much of our fur goes each winter,” Schroder said. Sales of fur items in those major markets did not increase as winter temperatures there remained above-average with below-average snowfall.

Added to the slow-up, China’s economy weakened, reducing fur purchases even more. Area fur trappers and processors noted that furs sold at U.S. auctions often went directly to Canada where stocks of most popular fur species were stockpiled, lowering or slowing demand and price increases normally seen at mid winter.

At the start of the fur trapping and auction season, fur-sales experts Joe Fonzi and Chris “Hoot” Gerling both offered qualified optimism for a good season for harvesting and sales of fur items.

The early and steady onset of cold offered promise, but persistent cold eventually slowed harvesting. “Trappers just weren’t working steadily in the bitter cold as the season went on,” Schroder surmised.

Lot numbers generally increased at the four Genesee Valley auctions held from Dec. 15 to March 16. Lots jumped from 266 on Dec. 15 to over 500 on Jan. 19 and neared 600 on Feb. 16. But the final auction, which usually draws the most lots and buyers, dropped to 366.

“We only had three serious buyers at that last auction,” Schroder said. Quality of items in lots was exceptional, but averages from most popular species ended lower. Beaver, coyote, gray fox and mink all ended below average prices seen during the three earlier auctions. Only red fox showed good high and average prices during the finale.

Gerling’s retail sales of finished products were up this winter but marketing of raw fur was down about 40 percent, but the resource looks good.

As for animal survival, he said, “Mother Nature planned for a rough winter and the animals seemed to have made it through quite well. Coyote hunters are bringing in good pelts on the season that ends today,” he noted.

While deer are yarding up and vulnerable to predation, hunters have yet to see numbers of weakened deer and other prey animals that coyote, fox and other wildlife leave afield.

Like many a ball-sport season ending, trappers just have to store gear, sharpen skills and wait until next year.