guilt free Eco-Fur?
So here's the situation...a rodent-like species is eroding the wetlands throughout America? What? How do I always miss out on this kind of news? The rodent is called a Nutria. Ever heard of it? Mmm… I hadn’t either. It has been tracked in at least 16 states, and we see a large portion of the damage done in Louisiana and the Chesapeake in Maryland. It is a South America rodent, that is smaller than a ground hog and larger than it’s cousin the North American Beaver. This little creature is currently destroying about 6,200 acres of coastal wetlands each year. It was introduced to the US in the 1930’s, maybe even as far back as the 19th century. Apparently tax dollars are going towards providing incentives to hunters to kill these mammals and lessen or eradicate the problem. Why does it not surprise me that the fur industry is at the bottom of this?
SOUTH AMERICAN RODENT
These non-native, prolifically breeding mammals, are not too picky; they love to feast on wetland plants. They have bodies that are built perfectly for burrowing down and attacking the root-mat of the marshlands. They make a clearing in the center and then whittle away at the edges. Once they have loosened up a substantial amount of land, that land sinks and is permanently destroyed. The wetlands provide shelter for the marshes multitude of fisheries and birds. The marsh protects these habitats from storms, tidal surges, creating a barrier from the open sea and the brackish waters. The damage that these “pesty” creatures, who have no natural predators here, have brought, has cost us well over 200 million and additionally, we are spending over 1.5 M to eradicate them.
THE GOVERNMENT PLAN
The solution…kill them any way you can and the Statewide nutria control plan will pay you about $5/tail, yes per tail. There is no incentive to bring in the body or the pelt. These are usually discarded. In addition, by way of the Clean Water Act, Congress has enacted the Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP). This program gives US Federally funded dollars to fur companies and designers using Nutria fur for “eco-fashion”. This “Ecological Fur” has been all the rage, as many would tout, it had to be killed anyway, so what is the point in wasting the body and pelt? Therefore, they have labeled these as “ecological” and “guilt free” fur products. At first look, many would say the solution is ingenious. Is it really though?
HOW'D THEY GET HERE?
I suppose first we have to look who brought them. If you remember, they are not native to our country and they did not just appear. We, of course have created this imbalance. How did these South American rodents make their way here? They were probably originally brought over in 1930’s. Apparel made out of nutria became very popular as movie stars like Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Taylor were glamorously photographed wearing them. It wasn’t until the demand for this creature in the Russian and other fur markets waned, that they became an obvious problem. The nutria were hunted less and were left to over populate. So it seems, it was the fur industry that burdened the US with this “pest” and it is the fur industry that is somewhat benefiting from their overpopulation (definitely not getting fined for it). 20 nutria were introduced in 1938 to Louisiana and they have exceeded $20M in about 20 years.
It would be further irresponsible to ignore that there is a problem, in having this evasive species rapidly munching away at our ecosystem, but how do we “lovingly”/humanely solve our human error? Shooting (to kill and not use the fur), trapping, electrocuting and skinning or gassing (with carbon dioxide) – to protect the pelts? Trapping of course, puts other animals at risk, since traps are not exactly picky about who or what they trap that is heavy enough and fits into it. Electrocuting and skinning or gassing, can hardly be considered humane. Unfortunately, as I understand it, left as is, we will destroy our delicate ecosystem. If we can think of a solution for the death of these creatures, which in itself I would argue is not “guilt-free”, then there is the issue of distribution and processing, which is not Green. It seems most of the markets for processing these pelts are in China, so there is the issue of transport from mostly Louisiana and Maryland to the main ports that ship out to China – in Seattle and Toronto. Then there is the ecological drain of the processing itself. The formaldehyde, chemicals in the dyes, chromates, bleaching and cleaning agents, etc. Once the furs and skin are processed, then there is additional transportation to the designer market. Designers like Michael Kors (to line raincoats) and Oscar de la Renta (hat trim) use these, not to mention that typically furs do not store well and many store their fur products in air-conditioned vaults.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The use and advertising of these animal products, while perhaps a clever solution to utilizing something that has been cast off as waste, in itself creates a desire for more of this “waste” to be created. If iyr ultimate desire is to eradicate this non-native species and stop the destruction of our ecosystem, at least from this error, then the model of creating a market for the use of their fur does not seem like a proper motivator. People are now on the payroll and it is not naturally in their best interest to see these creatures completely eradicated. In addition, does the advertising help to promote the fur business in general, as it promotes the continued taste for such products, ecologically or not? I personally would rather see us move completely away from the demand for “preowned skin and fur”, but I own products that look like leather or at least one item that looks similar (but clearly not) fur. Oh, and I saw a company that is using the meat for dog treats and I saw that someone made a suggestion to use the pelts for dog beds. Does that make it better? There are many vegans that do feed their dogs meat. Chime in…what do you think?