The Use of Snowmobiles for Trapping on Banks Island


  • Peter J. Usher



Icebreaking, Ice pressure, Ice-structure interaction, Louis S. St. Laurent (Ship), Manhattan (Ship), Marine transportation, Pressure ridges, Sea ice, Winds, Baffin Bay-Davis Strait


The village of Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, Northwest Territories, has been the outstanding example of a successful trapping community in northern North America for a generation .... Trapping is still the full-time occupation of virtually every active male, and per capita income from trapping is higher than in any other settlement in the Arctic or Subarctic. Eighty-seven per cent of cash income at Sachs Harbour was derived from trapping during the years 1963 to 1967, and the average income of full-time trappers from furs was $6,296. The sole basis of the fur harvest is the arctic or white fox, although the people also rely on 3 other major resources for their livelihood: caribou, seal, and polar bears. In recent years, the fewer than 20 trappers on Banks Island have accounted for as much as one-third of Canadian arctic fox production, indicating not only their own productivity but also the decline of trapping in other areas of the North. ... The explanation for such high productivity lies not in ecology, or even primarily in economics, but rather in the unique history of the Canadian Western Arctic coast, and the resulting social and economic orientations of its people .... The Bankslanders, as they call themselves, are acquisitive and proud. They are strongly motivated towards trapping as the most appropriate means of achieving both economic success and the prestige traditionally brought by conspicuous consumption. ... The Bankslanders have a tradition of innovation. They are quick to test new means of production, and to invest money in high quality capital goods which have proven their worth. ... The trapping and hunting system on Banks Island is probably the most modern of its type in the world, relying on the best available technology, and the most productive systems of organization and marketing. ... The snowmobile has been gradually integrated into the Banks Island trapping system over a decade. Caution and astuteness have marked its acceptance. It would appear that it will not have any profound effects on the system. Temporarily the snowmobile constitutes a considerable extra economic burden, and although this will very likely diminish, it cannot but increase production costs. Although it will probably not increase trapline productivity significantly, it will provide more leisure time during the trapping season, and more free time for the assumption of temporary wage positions during the summer months. As a result, total net income will probably increase, and with reduced reliance on fox pelts as the sole source of cash, the cyclic pattern of income from year to year should be reduced. Harvests of all species should remain within sustainable limits, and some species will be harvested at lower levels than at present. There do not appear to be any serious effects on animal behaviour. The snowmobile is only one of many forces that will change the social system at Sachs Harbour. The encroachment of government administration and private resource development, both of which accelerated greatly in the summer of 1970, will be of far more profound consequence than the snowmobile. Data on trapping effort and productivity from 1970 onwards will therefore have to be interpreted in the light of these events as well as of the transition to snowmobiles, which is now, in 1972, virtually complete.