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Beaver Trapping Leaves Environmental Damage Legacy

 

Pushing south, the Hudson’s Bay Co. established a trading post in 1832 near the confluence of Calapooya Creek and the Umpqua River, and two years later moved it downriver to the confluence of Elk Creek, where Elkton, Ore., is located today.

Sustained high fur prices for beaver pelts, sometimes called “soft gold,” had fueled western expansion in the form of trappers and traders.  In only a few years, the popularity of beaver pelt hats had declined, although word had not reached Southern Oregon when the fur industry descended on its meandering streams and sapphire pools created by beavers.

The perceived endless abundance of beaver led to their wholesale slaughter. In a single season, the Umpqua Basin trappers brought 50,000 pelts to the company.  As the supply began to exceed world demand, the Hudson’s Bay Co. began to burn the pelts in order to drive up the price. By this time the fur was no longer in fashion, prices dropped further and the beavers had been nearly exterminated. 

The environmental legacy of removing beavers from the land is still felt today.

Source: Petrowski, Stanley, President and Director of the South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership, "Oral History." The Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society, 8 Aug. 2004. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

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Shockey has been a long-time JPR contributor and enjoys supporting the Southern Oregon Historical Society and JPR by digging up regional stories.