Should we boycott products made from Beaver skin/fur?

Beaver at Forest Grove Reservation - 2014-03-30 by Bill  Damon, on FlickrAppreciated for their lavish texture and warmth, beavers have been used in the fashion industry for hundreds of years as hats, fur coats and in leather goods (amongst other items). Autumn Sartain explains the role beavers play in the environment and whether it is truly possible to buy beaver products and sleep at night.

Beavers play an important role in their environments – so much so that they are considered a “keystone species.” A keystone species essentially binds an ecosystem together. Their impact is so important that if they were taken out, the ecosystem would drastically change. This means that the other species living in that ecosystem depend on the keystone species to maintain their habitat.

The Dambusters

Beavers are famous for building dams. Through dam-building, engineered flooding and their feeding activities, beavers change the hydrology and geomorphology of channels, create wetlands, alter nutrient cycles and decomposition, influence the plant species that live alongside their streams, and a lot more. They have the ability to completely change the dynamics and productivity of an ecosystem.

As for whether all this is enough to boycott beaver fur, that’s really a personal choice…

Beaver Fur

Beaver trade in the past was pretty devastating throughout Europe and North America. By the early 1900s American beavers were overexploited and there were only about 1200 Eurasian beavers left. Now, though, because of protection measures and re-introduction programmes, Beaver populations have recovered enough that both the Eurasian Beaver and the American Beaver are considered as being of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In fact, in Europe their numbers had climbed to 430,000 by 1998; and now they are even considered “abundant” in North America….Beavering Away, you could say!

However, Eurasian beavers are still struggling to recover in Asia, where populations are small – in Mongolia in 2004, the population was estimated at around 130-150 individuals, and in China only one major population is known and estimates for the entire country peak at 700.

It makes sense then not to source beaver fur from Asia, as these populations are suffering. But what about beaver fur from Europe and North America? Hunting rules and conservation measures vary across regions, so the best way to approach this is to find out a few things before buy, for example, where does the fur come from? Is it harvested ethically and sustainably?

Asking these questions will help ensure that beavers don’t experience the population crashes of the past and will ensure that the environments dependent on them can stay intact.

Answer by Autumn Sartain

For further reading: Ecosystem Alteration of Boreal Forest Streams by Beaver

Image Source: Beaver at Forest Grove Reservation – 2014-03-30 by Bill  Damon, on Flickr

Article by Autumn Sartain

November 5, 2014

Autumn Sartain’s favourite thing is spending time in nature, which is why she chose to be a wildlife research ecologist. Over the past ten years she has grappled with sea turtles in the tropics, chased song birds in the mountains and sifted through Antarctic seafloor samples. She also somehow managed to carve out the time to gain a postgraduate qualification in Biology. Autumn writes about biology, conservation, and the environmental / outdoor lifestyle – you can find out about her and her writing at autumnsartain.com.


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