ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Trappers in Alaska got news last week that many of them had been dreading: The European Community has approved a long-threatened ban on pelts and fur products that come from countries allowing steel leg-hold traps.
Such traps are commonly used across Alaska, Canada and the lower 48 states, and many of the fur sold by trappers in Alaska eventually wind up in the European market.
The ban, which takes effect Jan. 1, 1995, essentially gives the rest of the world until then to develop more humane ways of trapping and killing fur-bearing animals.
The result is that trappers across North America will have to change the way they trap or face losing a big share of their market.
"It's going to filter down to the average little trapper in the bush," said Dean Wilson, a longtime Fairbanks-based fur buyer.
Trapping remains a key ingredient in economies across rural Alaska. Many villagers use income from selling pelts to supplement fishing, firefighting and other seasonal work.
Facing increasing pressure from animal-welfare groups, theEuropean Community adopted a regulation that has been debated for several years.
The measure will ban the import of pelts or fur goods into the 12 EC nations from countries that permit leg-hold traps and don't adhere to new international standards for humane trapping.
The ban covers 13 species, including eight trapped in Alaska: beaver, coyote, lynx, marten (also known as sable), muskrat, river otter, weasel and wolf.
It apparently means that all imports from the United States will be banned unless Alaska and other states outlaw leg-hold traps or Congress bans them nationwide, according to Herb Melchior, a Fairbanks-based state wildlife biologist who specializes in furbearers, and people in Alaskan and Canadian trapping circles.
The argument against steel leg-hold traps is that they unnecessarily cause trapped animals to suffer. The jaws of the trap can snap bones, but they don't generally kill the animal. It remains trapped -- and, animal-welfare groups say, suffering -- until a trapper comes along and removes it. Often in Alaska, trapped animals freeze to death, although trappers sometimes kill the animals with a club.