Alta. farmer spends winters on the trapline

 Neil Kimmy of Millet, Alta., holds a bundle of Canadian lynx furs. He said the money he earned from trapping made a down payment on his farm. | Mary MacArthur photo

Neil Kimmy says the money earned from trapping isn’t what it used to be; now the incentive is spending time in the bush

MILLET, Alta. — Neil Kimmy loves the land and loves the bush.

For nine months of the year Kimmy farms with his family near Millet. But from November to January he works on his traplines near Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.

His passion for trapping started early, and it didn’t take long for Kimmy to realize he could make more money trapping than his high school friends could stocking grocery store shelves.

“When I filled out the aptitude test at high school, I wanted to be a trapper. My old man used to cringe,” said Kimmy.

Every weekend the teenaged Kimmy would leave his Edmonton home and go to his grandfather’s farm near the Battle River southwest of Edmonton and trap or help out at a friend’s farm.

“I used to go all weekend. I’d come down Friday night and go home late Sunday. I’d trap beaver and coyotes. Trapping was good,” he said.

“I couldn’t live in the city. It was like trying to keep a Tasmanian devil in a box. It just wasn’t happening. When I wasn’t trapping I went to the farm.”

After high school, he rented a trapline near Westlock and trapped beaver, coyote, lynx and fisher. With strong fur prices, Kimmy was hooked on trapping.

“At that time a lynx pelt was worth $500. It was pretty good wages but it was only for three months. Then the price of fur was very good. You could make a very good living trapping three months a year. Now, you can’t,” he said.

“Trapping for two months gave me the downpayment on my first farm. My first quarter, I paid with fur money. Now the fur money wouldn’t be able to fill up my tractor.”

In the 1980s, a Canadian lynx fur averaged $500 and some reached $800. Top-quality pelts fetched $1,600. Now those furs are worth $100. A mink was worth $40 to $60 and now sells for $20, the same price as it costs to have it tanned. Wolverine pelts are the most valuable and still sell for $500 to $600 each. On his trapline, he traps Canadian lynx, fisher, pine marten, otter, wolverine, weasel, squirrel and beaver.

A stuffed fisher sits inside Kimmy’s office. | Mary MacArthur photo

At 20, Kimmy bought the first of his northern traplines and its assets from another trapper. The assets included the right to trap in the area, all the upgrades by the previous owner and a cabin.

“The original cabins weren’t mouse proof, but you just lived with the mice. Sometimes weasels would move in and eat the mice. Back 30 years ago things were different than they are now.”

Kimmy and his family now trap on his three traplines and another owned by his son in a vast area just below the Northwest Territories border on 27 townships of land, or about 622,000 acres.

“It is a tremendous area. It’s all bush.”

For 35 years, Kimmy has kept his routine of trapping in the winter and farming the rest of the year. He farms with his wife, Nadine, and their children Colten, Branden and Trisia and their families on land west of Coal Lake.

“There is not any money in trapping, so it’s all about being in the bush. The bush is for everybody. The kids and grandkids now come up to the trapline. We still trap and keep the furs. Nobody makes a living on trapping; it is a way of life. Before I was doing it to make a living. Now we’re doing it as a family.”

As part of his trapping agreement, it’s Kimmy’s job to regulate the fur animals. Some years, when there are few animals, he cuts back on his traps. When there are lots of rabbits, there are lots of fur animals to trap.

These mitts are made from otter fur. | Mary MacArthur photo

“The bush is regulated with the rabbit cycle. When there are lots of rabbits there is lots of fur. When the rabbits crash so does the fur. That is when you should trap them hard because you have a surplus of animals. They either move or die. You should be trapping hard then.”

In recent years, Kimmy has worked with biologists and the Alberta Conservation Association on wolverine research in the boreal forest. Kimmy helped trap and collar 10 wolverines to help the biologists study the elusive animals.

Using GPS locations from the collared animals, they followed a wolverine to a bear kill and proved wolverines can have young every year.

Despite the poor fur prices, Kimmy still traps and has the furs tanned. He sells the tanned furs at cost as a way to promote the fur industry. He has the hides made into hats, gloves and blankets.

“I don’t sell them to make money, but to promote the industry.”

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