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New Mexico Game Commission faces deadline to improve trapping rule
A map recently released by TrapFree New Mexico shows that three of the four areas set for closure have no reports of companion animals being trapped, while almost all of the public lands in the state remain unprotected. The Department of Game and Fish staff identified eight square miles adjacent to Santa Fe, a buffer along the road to Taos Ski Valley, and part of the Organ Mountains National Monument as warranting protection due to high potential for conflict. But TrapFree New Mexico data indicate that these are among the few areas in the state where there are no reports of trapped companion animals. The fourth area slated for closure to trapping is the Sandia Mountains adjacent to Albuquerque. Department staff has not provided data or analysis to explain the closure areas chosen. Already TrapFree New Mexico has received reports of two dogs that have been trapped this fall. Neither of these incidents were in the areas proposed for trapping closure.
Game Commissioners have so far not publicly requested any changes to the proposed rules. A letter signed by groups in the TrapFree New Mexico coalition clearly made the case for an end to trapping on public lands. The letter included arguments around animal cruelty, public safety, and the inequity that private trapping creates. To date, Game Commissioners and Department staff have neither responded to the letter nor indicated having considered the arguments therein.
“Public sentiment, the best available science, and the direction of our state’s economy all dictate that public lands should be free of traps,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “But we’ve received no sign that the message has gotten across to the Commissioners.”
During the public comment period, many New Mexicans have submitted written or oral comments asking for a public lands trapping ban. During that time, the state’s two largest papers editorialized against trapping. Polling shows that nearly 70% of New Mexico voters oppose the use of traps altogether.
“New Mexicans are sick of the stories of injured, tortured, and maimed animals. Traps, snares and poisons don’t belong on public lands,” said Laura Bonar, chief program and policy officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico.
“There is no documented scientific evidence that indiscriminately killing coyotes and other carnivores with the use of traps serves any legitimate wildlife management purpose,” said Albuquerque-based Project Coyote science advisory board member Dave Parsons, a retired career wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Game Commission should recognize that trapping on New Mexico’s public lands is scientifically and ecologically indefensible.”
Trapping on public lands is legal in New Mexico. There are no bag limits for furbearer species. The law does not require trap locations to be marked or signed, or for any warnings to be present. No gross receipts tax is levied on fur and pelts sold by trappers. No penalties exist for trappers who unintentionally trap non-target species including endangered species, protected species, domestic animals, pets, humans, or livestock.
No database or official record is kept by any public entity and no requirement exists that trappers report when they have captured a dog in their traps. The pattern these incidents follow is usually similar: dogs screaming and frantically biting at the person desperately trying to rescue them. Veterinary and even human medical treatment along with associated expenses can result, as can long-lasting psychological trauma to both human and animal victims.
The true toll that trapping takes on native wildlife is difficult to know. Reporting requirements exist for some species, but not for often-trapped so-called “unprotected furbearers” like coyotes and skunks. The accuracy of reporting is unverifiable and numbers do not adequately articulate the suffering and carnage that traps wreak on bobcats, foxes, imperiled Mexican gray wolves, coyotes, and other animals.
The almost singular excuse for the above-mentioned incidents is that trapping is necessary to control carnivore populations, but scientific studies do not support this assertion. In fact, scientific studies show that trapping and lethally removing carnivore species, like coyotes, often exacerbate conflicts such as those with livestock (see Using Coyotes to Protect Livestock. Wait. What?, Randy Comeleo, Oregon Small Farm News, Vol. XIII No. 2, p. 2,http://ow.ly/Pj8k30k3wTF (Spring 2018)).
Allowing trapping by a minuscule subset of the population using New Mexico’s public lands is in direct conflict with one of the state’s most valuable economic strengths: outdoor recreation. Highlighted by the recent New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference in Las Cruces, the outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico is a current and future boon—diversifying and stabilizing the state’s economy while creating 99,000 direct jobs in the process. Outdoor recreation includes hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, hunting, horseback riding, angling, trail running, and bicycling. Piles of dead animals discarded by public roadways or by the thousands of wild animals taken from New Mexico’s diverse public landscapes for personal profit do not bolster the economy.