Volume 13, Issue 4 ~ January 27 - Febuary 2, 2005
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

Save the Bay; Wear a Nutria

We're wearing it because we want to.
-Texan Linda Knight as quoted in the Sun

One wonders if Ms. Knight would have said that four or eight years ago. Or if she'd have worn what she wore to keep warm in chilly Washington, DC. On her shoulders was a white mink.

I have no idea what that cozy coat cost, but I've read that Ms. Knight, who was celebrity-watching during the inaugural events, had a lot of company. I have no idea either whether it was the frigid temperatures, a switch in styles, more determined women or what that prompted more furs on the backs of those in the Capital last week.

But methinks fur, real fur, is coming back. Bye-bye fake furs.

I overheard a trapper say the other day at a convenience store near Cambridge, "Looks like Bush's big day is our big day."

If that fellow with a scraggly beard is right, perhaps all that inaugural hoopla could mean more than a few big days for Chesapeake Bay - even though there's a big difference between coat, jacket or cape made of mink and one of nutria.

Maybe that trickle-down effect talked of by economists can come into play. You know, the real rich will stay with their traditional mink or sable and the not-so-rich will opt for silver fox while those with more limited budgets settle for muskrat, or better still, nutria, to keep warm while staying up with the turnaround in fashion.

Fervently Anti-Fur
There was no Joe Namath of quarterback fame modeling a fur coat to bring about what seems a change in attitudes about wearing animal pelts. Namath's well-publicized TV pitch on behalf of fur for men gave furriers a little and short-lived boost in business several decades ago. But not long afterward, the fur garment business pretty much went kaput.

Bridget Bardot and a bunch of other Hollywood actresses - joined by other notables, both men and women - led a successful campaign that practically made anyone, women and men who went for Namath's fur sales pitch, ashamed to wear or use the hides and furs of animals for anything. With some, even leather shoes were a no-no.

If shame or guilt weren't sufficient to discourage the wearing of fur, there came more active deterrents; cat calls, volatile demonstrations, even hurling containers of ink or worse at persons attired in fur.

Burton Women in Furs
As I reported some time back, it was at the peak of the no-fur campaign that I finally scraped up enough moola to buy wife Lois a silver fox jacket for Christmas. She gave it a debut at the Lyric in Baltimore. The jacket survives, but ever since it has languished in storage.

Now, following all the wearing of furs in Washington last week with little if any furor, I wouldn't be surprised to notice that silver fox back in the hall closet ready to go.

Feisty Aunt MiMi up there in Vermont wasn't about to be intimidated at the height of the anti-fur hullabaloo; whenever the occasion was appropriate, she wore the mink stole passed down in Uncle Larry's family. When she passed away last year it went to cousin Ann, who can now wear it safely.

Can it be that all along women appreciated furs but didn't appreciate the Hollywood crowd dictating what they could and couldn't wear? That's what voters did at the polls last November when they ignored the pleas of the stars.

Why Environmentalists Should Wear Wildlife
Such a shift would be cause for celebration among the thousands of Maryland trappers, who have enjoyed neither good news nor good markets of late.

An improved fur market might well go beyond more ringing of cash registers for furriers and trappers. It cold mean fewer nutria on our marshes, where nutria were brought in decades past to pump up that very trade.

Every voracious nutria removed from the marshes of Chesapeake Bay can mean the daily saving of two and a half to three and a half pounds of aquatic vegetation so vital to the stability of the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Moreover, each nutria that ends up in a fur coat means less competition for food and habitat for muskrats, which impact marsh vegetation considerably less than their South American imported counterparts (and also make neat fur coats).

Maybe new demand for fur would also make a dent in the population of another wildlife species, which does on land as the nutria does on the marshes. That's the prairie wolf, also known as the coyote.

Coyotes are much bigger than nutria, and a good prairie wolf pelt brings a much better price. As with nutria, the fewer coyotes around the better things will be in our overall environmental scheme. It wasn't until 1972 that a coyote sighting was documented in Maryland. Since the first observations in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties, their population appears to have accelerated like that of the nutria.

Coyotes have taken up residence in all 23 Maryland counties. If there aren't any yet in Baltimore, there probably will be in the outskirts any day now. As with nutria, there's no way trapping - or even hunting; they are legal for hunters, no restrictions of any kind - can eliminate the prairie wolf. It's here to stay. If it could be kept within reasonable numbers, it would be welcome. Thus far that hasn't been the way things seem to be working out.

Maryland and Virginia share similar habitat and land-use patterns, and in the latter state the coyote population is increasing 29 percent annually. So pretty much the same can be expected here, which is bad news for upland and forest game - pheasants, quail, rabbits and such - not to mention house cats and miniature dogs. Bob Colona, who heads Maryland furbearer programs, says one of the first indications of coyotes moving into an area is the disappearance of household cats.

The red fox, another furbearer, cannot co-exist with the coyote. History shows when and where the coyote sets up shop, the fox disappears.

If coyote pelts become more evident on the fur coat market, I know of two ladies who will be first in line: my daughter Liz and my niece Jane, who live in New England. Both have tried unsuccessfully to nurse back to health pet cats that made it back to their doorsteps after being mauled by coyotes. So wearing a prairie wolf pelt would be a belated and somewhat satisfying gotcha.

Methinks what we need is more nutria and coyote-based outer garments and muffs, and perhaps more parkas insulated with the down from aquatic vegetation-eating mute swans. Also, gloves of deer hide. The wearers will be more snug, maybe even smug - and the Bay and my white longhair cat 2-E will have a tad less to worry about. Enough said ...

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