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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

If Business Is Good, The Fur Flies ‘Skin Dealer’ Sells Pelts From Around The World

Snazzy white fox.

Shaggy musk ox. All kinds of leathers and fake eagle feathers.

The warehouse of Eidnes Furs is a slightly surrealistic place, full of animal parts from around the world. Owner Lars Eidnes has carved a niche in the critter trade, which includes providing costume materials for such movies as “Dances with Wolves” and “Buffalo Girls.”

Customers include theater groups, clothing manufacturers, museums that want to re-create animals for display, and artisans making replicas of Indian artifacts.

Eidnes Furs, which has six employees, has been in St. Maries since 1978. Its owner was reared in suburban Chicago and later moved to Wisconsin. He trapped animals there and studied art and biology in college.

Eidnes moved to the West in 1973 and went into business in Moscow, Idaho, with his buddy Gary Schroeder, buying furs from trappers.

Schroeder, now a state senator, still has the Moscow business. But Eidnes struck out on his own after a few years.

What he buys from local trappers “wouldn’t pay the utilities for a month,” he says. In the Inland Northwest, trappers are much more likely to deal with Pacific Hide and Fur in Spokane.

“Pacific is what we call a ‘country collector.’ They buy fur from trappers and sell it in lots,” Eidnes says. “Sometimes, I buy things from Pacific.”

Eidnes calls himself a “skin dealer.” He buys from fur farms and far-flung trappers who can supply the specialty products he wants.

He gets grizzly hides from Canada and Alaska, where it’s legal to kill the big bears. The musk ox comes from Canada’s Northwest Territories. There are wolves from Russia, Mongolia, Alaska and Canada.

Eidnes has sheepskins from Iceland that look like a lion’s mane or maybe Tina Turner’s wig. There are plush pelts from Australian opossums, Japanese raccoons, Russian weasels.

While he imports furs, Eidnes says his out-of-country sales have dropped by 95 percent in the past three years. He blames increased permit and inspection fees required by laws aimed at protecting rare species.

“At a minimum, it costs $150 in permits to ship a package overseas,” Eidnes says. “Every year, the feds pass a little different laws. … Sometimes, I disagree with them, but I don’t have a voice in that.”

The permit paperwork is a necessary evil, federal wildlife agent Roger Parker says. Illegal traffic in wildlife parts is second only to the sale of illegal drugs, he says.

“I can understand Lars’ position,” Parker adds. “For somebody who’s trying hard to do business legally, the paperwork makes it more difficult.”

Despite the regulatory hassles, Eidnes Furs doesn’t lack for customers. And they come looking for more than skins.

The warehouse contains boxes of skulls, antlers, hooves, horns, tails and other animal parts that can be used to make decorations, costumes and weapons. Because it’s illegal for non-Indians to own feathers of the endangered bald eagle, Eidnes keeps a stock of painted turkey feathers that mimic the real thing.

There’s even a box of bones from horse hooves.

“Those aren’t a big seller,” Eidnes says wryly.

He walks past shelves stacked with hides from moose, deer and elk.

The more unusual skins include snow-white untanned deer hide, the kind used for ceremonial garb, and moose hide that’s been tanned by Cree Indians. Their ancient daylong process involves rubbing animal brains into the leather. That makes it baby-soft and pliable after it’s been wet.

“The average commercially tanned deerskin costs $40,” Eidnes says. “The average brain-tanned skin is $150.”

An office wall at Eidnes Furs is decorated with still photos from the movie “The Edge,” a thriller that featured Bart the grizzly. To cover the mechanical creature that doubled for Bart, costumers pieced together eight grizzly hides purchased from Eidnes.

Eidnes has little patience for those who blame disappearing animal populations on trappers and hunters.

“They have absolutely no idea what’s going on,” he says. “Ninety-nine percent of endangered species are due to habitat loss.”

This back-road business hasn’t been bothered by animal-rights activists.

Eidnes says Americans are influenced more by the movies than by activists - all the better for him.

Surround Kevin Costner with Indian regalia or put Steven Seagal in a brain-tanned deerskin jacket, and “oh, boy, our business goes bonkers! It’s wonderful.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo