Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hudson’s Bay Company fur trapping policies set stage for modern environmental struggles

14.12.2004


The Pacific Northwest has seen its share of major environmental battles. Now a new historical study of the fur trade indicates that early Europeans and Americans in the region struggled with similar issues nearly two centuries ago as they sought to exploit and preserve the area’s natural resources.



In a pilot study examining the historical record for the National Park Service, a University of Washington researcher has found that the Hudson’s Bay Company, the dominant outside force in the region during the early years of the 19th century, set the stage for later environmental struggles through its own sometimes conflicting policies.

Brian Schefke, a UW history doctoral student, said the firm failed as a force for conservation because it was constrained by its business strategy and the constant demand for profits. "The company tried, but the very nature of the fur trade ultimately meant its conservation efforts couldn’t succeed. It had to expand because its old beaver trapping grounds were in decline and this expansion brought ecological stress to new territory," he said.


In addition, it forever altered the Northwest landscape with the introduction of European farming methods and crops to supply its far-flung fur-trading empire. And later, when the supply of beaver pelts began to decline, the company began switching its focus from furs to firs. Export of commodities such as timber, fish and agricultural products from its farms became increasingly important sources of revenue.

Hudson’s Bay Company was the preeminent outside influence on the Pacific Northwest from 1821 to 1846 when the Oregon Treaty fixed the border between American and British territory. That influence, although waning, persisted until 1871 when the company closed its last post in the United States.

The company gained its foothold on the Pacific Northwest when it absorbed a competitor, the North West Company in 1821. George Simpson, head of Hudson’s Columbia Department, was the primary architect of the company’s activities in the Pacific Northwest, according to Schefke.

Simpson directed the shift of the company’s activities in 1825, from Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia River inland to Fort Vancouver, the site of present-day Vancouver, Wash. That site, he believed, would allow the company’s trading activities to expand and be a place to develop a farm. Within a decade he expanded the agricultural side of the business by launching another farm at Fort Nisqually at the south end of Puget Sound.

At the same time, Simpson acted to squelch competition from American traders who could legally operate in what was then called the Oregon country. One of his main concerns was creating a buffer to protect the company’s richest beaver-trapping operations in the interior of British Columbia. To keep Americans at bay, he set out to create what other historians have described as a "fur desert" in the Snake River Basin. This involved trapping as many animals as possible to make the area unprofitable to American trappers. Simpson’s strategy worked, but decimated the beaver population.

Simpson used other strategies along the Northwest coast, where sea otter pelts were at the center of the fur trade. Hudson’s Bay Company was less interested in these furs than in protecting its richer trapping grounds in the interior. Nevertheless, because of the company’s focus on profits, stocks of both sea otter and beaver declined west of the Cascade Mountains.

Schefke said the company considered and tried a number of conservation strategies to prop up dwindling stocks in areas under its control. For example, it discouraged its trappers from hunting beaver in the summer when the animals’ fur was thinner and of poorer quality. However, it is unclear if any of this or other strategies were applied in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1840s, Hudson’s Bay Company official Archibald McDonald did propose creating a nature preserve west of Puget Sound to allow the beaver population to recover. The plan was never implemented, but nearly a century later much of the same territory was protected by the establishment of Olympic National Park in 1938.

Along with fur trapping, the Hudson’s Bay Company fostered European patterns of land use and exotic crops such as wheat, potatoes and cattle that permanently altered the landscape.

The fur trade also had sweeping impacts on the human landscape, accelerating the precipitous decline in the Indian population by introducing such diseases as smallpox and measles. Schefke notes that in the first century of European contact, native populations declined by as much as 80 percent in parts of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. And along the lower Columbia River, the Indian population shrank by as much as 90 percent between 1805 and 1855, according to earlier research.

Schefke said the company employed a number of Indians throughout its North American territory and relied on them as partners in the fur trade. In some areas, a number of traditional ways of life gave way to a growing dependence on European goods and trade, but it is not yet clear how big the changes were among Pacific Northwest Indians. In addition, some Indians with no experience in fur trapping or hunting on a sustained basis were encouraged by the company to engage in those activities.

Eventually Hudson’s Bay Company failed, in part, because it viewed nature as something to exploit, Schefke said.

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

nachricht Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>