Farmers and ranchers who lost acres to flooding this spring might look to their sloughs for some payback this trapping season.
Last spring, top-quality muskrat pelts averaged around $10 each, and industry sources are optimistic that those prices could hold for this year s harvest.
Barry Verbiwski, head of the furbearer and problem wildlife management unit of Manitoba Conservation, said that this year might be a good year for rat trapping.
It s an ideal situation, relatively high muskrat populations and prices that are almost at historical highs as well, he said.
The highest concentrations of muskrats can be found in the Interlake, but wherever flooded areas have filled up with cattails and bulrushes, their dome-shaped houses can be found, sometimes in large numbers.
In such areas, muskrats flourish, and can have two to three litters per year, or up to 20 offspring per mating pair.
That makes their populations very resilient and able to bounce back even after heavy trapping pressure.
When fur fashion was de rigueur during the 1940s and 1950s, Manitoba s annual catch topped 100,000 pelts per year. Netley-Libau marsh alone produced some 30,000-40,000 pelts per season, he said.
Stu Jansson, a director with the Manitoba Trapper s Association, said that the fresh new sloughs filled with vegetation that have appeared amid the recent wet cycle, create heaven for rats.
Prices that are expected to be around $8 for heavy-coated spring pelts, and $5 for fall-trapped rats, may entice more casual, part-time trappers back out onto the marshes and rivers.
The farmers who couldn t get a grain crop this year can go trap rats where they couldn t plant wheat, he joked. Prices look very, very promising.
He stressed, however, that buyers are most interested in prime, well-handled pelts. Sloppy fur handling, and skins taken too early or late always result in steep downgrades.
You can t make a $50 skin out of a $5 one, but it s darned easy to turn a $50 skin into a $5 one, he said.
The MTA regularly puts on fur handling and trapper education clinics around the province to educate newbies and interested youth. Information can be found on the association s website.
Populations are high this year, but if the sloughs dry up next summer, the muskrats will be gone whether they are trapped or not.
Muskrats, or any form of wildlife you can t store it, he said. For young trappers, with minimal equipment heading out after school, there s some decent dollars there.
Trapping-inclined ranchers and shepherds harassed by coyotes might also seize the opportunity to get some payback.
Jansson said that prices for top-quality, heavy winter pelts averaged $70 at international auctions this past summer, and are expected to hold the line this season.
Dave Bewick, vice-president of wild fur operations for North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), said that wild fur prices at auctions over the summer were among the best ever.
At the May NAFA auction, some 230,000 muskrat pelts sold at an average of over $10 each, with the top lot bringing $22.43 each.
Interest from garment manufacturers in the booming economies of China, Russia and South Korea have revived the wild fur industry after a number of dismal years, and recent sales of ranch mink and fox in Europe indicate that prices will remain high.
It looks very promising right now, said Bewick. I expect it to hold up, unless we have a major economic meltdown like in 2009.
On the downside, a lack of processing capacity worldwide means that beaver pelts will stay stuck at an average of $20 to $25 with a high range of $45 for large, heavy, winter-caught pelts.
NAFA will continue to send technicians to China to help fur processors improve their dressing techniques, but so far results have been disappointing.
It s an ideal situation, relatively high muskrat populations and prices that are almost at historical highs as well.
Don t call itroadkill
Musquash, the fancy new name adopted by the wild fur industry to lend an exotic flair to muskrat garments, took on a new meaning this year.
After flooding last spring drove countless thousands of the aquatic fur-bearing rodents from their bank dens on the Assiniboine, squashed brown lumps of furry roadkill could be seen on practically every mile of highway around the province.
Few drivers hurtling past at 110 km/h would have guessed that those muskrats, if trapped when their fur was prime and handled properly, could have been worth $10 each to the provincial economy.
Even the musquash that you saw on the highway would have gotten you about seven or eight bucks, joked Barry Verbiwski.