The blossoming animal-rights movement is not the only threat to the fur industry, native Alaskan trappers say. The boom of fur farms has glutted the market with skins and depressed prices, they say, and fur farms pollute the environment and introduce diseases to indigenous species.
Ironically, says Alaska Commerce Commissioner Larry Merculieff, the proliferation of farmed fur is a product of the animal-rights movement, which has portrayed the trapping of wild animals as cruel.
``I believe it is a very dangerous movement,'' says Mr. Merculieff, an Aleut who grew up hunting fur seals off the Pibilof Islands. ``Somehow, the public thinks it is more palatable.''
Pollution and the potential loss of habitat to oil development are other threats cited by the natives.
Clarence Alexander, Athabascan Indian chief for the Arctic Circle village of Fort Yukon, and his kinsmen are in the forefront of the battle to keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge closed to oil development. The Gwich'in Indians, a band of about 7,000 Athabascans in Alaska and northwestern Canada, contend that oil drilling in the refuge will disrupt the porcupine caribou herd that provides the native people with meat and skins.
Meanwhile, state environmental officials say, non-biodegradable trash is piling up on the tundra as Alaskan villagers abandon animal-skin products for the plastics and synthetics of urban America.
``I hate plastic. If I pick up a plastic container, sometimes I can actually see the fumes coming off of it,'' Chief Alexander says. ``I think we're cluttering up our cities and our villages and our water and our air with all of these pollutants and our byproducts of oil.''