Warm weather leading to worst Yukon trapping season in years

Yukon trappers are having the worst season in years, because of warm weather. The Yukon Trappers Association says some people have given up on the season.

'We use the waterways and open spaces to travel. And if they're not frozen, you're not travelling.'

Yukon Trappers Association president Brian Melanson says this year's fur harvest is about a quarter of the usual haul. 'It's been really bad. Really low snow conditions and real bad ice conditions,' he says. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

This year's warmer-than-usual weather has been bad for Yukon trappers. 

In fact, Brian Melanson, president of the Yukon Trappers Association says this year has been awful. 

"It's been a really quiet season this year. It's a combination of the low snow and the late freezing of the rivers and lakes and that. Also combination of low auction prices of the last two years.

"A lot of guys are finding other work and taking the season off."

Last year, the Trappers Association collected about 4,000 pelts of different species. This season, the association has collected barely a quarter of that.

"Fewer people are bringing in pelts," says Melanson.

"Just last week, we had a guy who continually harvests between 200 and 300 marten and several other species [per season]. This year, he came in and he had 52 marten. That's a first for him, and for that trapline, which has been trapped regularly since the 1960s."

Yukon has broken some weather records this year. Environment Canada says this November was the warmest it has been in 40 years.

Melanson says that warm weather is affecting trappers in two ways.

First, it restricts travel. 

"Most trappers, we're not out there to build trails and that. We use the waterways and we'll use open spaces to travel as much as possible. And if they're not frozen, you're not travelling," he says. 

A second effect is a lower quality of pelts. 

"The furs that have been coming in haven't been as prime as they should be. The animals haven't had the cold they need to get that nice, thick, rich, soft pelt. They're not going to fetch a premium dollar at auction," he says.

Melanson says he's been hearing the same thing from members across Yukon. Some are giving up on the idea of trapping being worth the work and expense this year. 

"A lot of the guys that have come in, they have such low harvests that they're done for the season. Some guys are going to look for [wage] work for the first time in 10 or 15 years. It's a pretty bad season overall," he says.

One trapper 'went through the ice' 

Jacques Jobin, a trapper based outside of Whitehorse, says it's not easy, but it's still worth the effort to go out this year. 

He says there are plenty of hares this year but he's still waiting on larger animals, like wolves.

"It's not too bad, from what I see," he said in French.

"I got a few lynx with nice fur. It's true it was warm in the beginning but we got some colder weather, and you can see the animals have new fur coming in."

However, Jobin says the lack of snow and ice has its effect on trappers.

"There's half the snow there usually is. I know a trapper who went through the ice. It's difficult to navigate a snowmobile in the woods," he said. "It's pretty rough. Some of them are having trouble with the lakes and the rivers haven't frozen well. Some trappers say there's open water." 

Weather aside, Jobin says there is another reason why the Yukon Trappers Association might be seeing fewer pelts this year.

Some trappers have started selling directly to buyers in Quebec in recent years, though actual numbers are hard to determine.

"I know people in Ross River are selling directly to my buyer, from Quebec. It's been a few years now," he says.