Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
New Mexico public lands at risk as trapping season begins
Last year, the New Mexico Game Commission made minor changes to the trapping regulations, but left most New Mexicans—especially rural residents—at risk. Trappers are not required to mark or indicate where dangerous traps are located. Further, no changes were made that would mitigate the cruelty experienced by trapped animals, nor stop the unlimited looting and commercial sale of public wildlife parts for private profit.
Every year, the start of trapping season brings up horrible memories for the unfortunate New Mexicans who have experienced the damage caused by traps firsthand.
“It’s almost that time of the year again, when any juniper or cedar on public lands may be used to rig a wire snare that kills pets and wildlife indiscriminately,” said Dave Clark, whose dog Roxy died in a strangulation snare on public lands. “It’s also the time of year when everyone can do something about that. Please consider the values of those for whom you vote.”
“By its very nature, trapping is indiscriminate. Wild species already under pressure suffer, and domestic animals for whom traps are not meant suffer, and sometimes die. Their owners also suffer their untimely and needless loss,” said Carolyn Fletcher, a New Mexico veterinarian. “To what end do we find this worthwhile, New Mexico? The profit of a few doesn’t compensate for the misery endured by many.”
“While there are special cases in which wildlife professionals should be able to use certain types of trapping to protect life, property or threatened or endangered species, recreational trapping, with its potential for mis-management of wildlife populations and mishaps with pet owners, should come to an end,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, northern conservation director with new Mexico Wild and political director of New Mexico Wild Action Fund. “As an avid hunter and conservationist, trapping gives a black eye to sportsmen and sportswomen’s reputation. I want the court of public opinion to view us as ethical, humane and responsible. Trapping doesn’t fit into this 21st century picture.”
“I’m forever haunted by my dog’s anguished yelps and cries with his paw clamped shut in a tight steel trap. I could not free him because my hands were disabled by freezing cold and bleeding knuckles from trying,” said Kathleen McDonald, whose dog was trapped in the Lincoln National Forest. “The sun was going down and I only had a weak cell signal making it hard to call for the help I needed. Traps are dangerous for animals and people.”
Along with many cases of family pets being injured and even killed in traps, non-target animals like black bears, ravens, and endangered Mexican gray wolves have also been caught and suffered in indiscriminate and cruel traps. Trappers rarely face any consequences for injuring or killing non-target animals. The trapper that killed Roxy, Mr. Clark’s dog, escaped conviction for his illegally set traps.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has no scientific population estimates for furbearer, and sets no limits on how many animals such as foxes, bobcats, beavers, badgers, coyotes, and ringtails a trapper can trap and kill. They are slaughtered freely without limit for private profit even as wildlife populations suffer through drought, climate change, and mass extinction.
Conservation and animal advocacy groups plan to introduce “Roxy’s Law” in the 2021 legislative session. The bill would prohibit private and commercial trapping on public lands across the state with important exemptions for human safety, scientific research, and trapping for tribal ceremonial purposes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made safe access to public lands exceptionally important to New Mexicans. Hidden, indiscriminate traps jeopardize safety and peace-of-mind for outdoor recreators. Trapped wildlife are often skinned on site, with carcasses left to rot in ditches. Arizona and Colorado both largely banned trapping on public lands in the mid 1990s.
Background: 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. TrapFree New Mexico has compiled known incidents on an interactive map in the absence of an official catalogue. 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 are common, as are long-lasting psychological trauma to both human and animal victims.
The true toll that trapping takes on native wildlife is difficult to assess. Reporting requirements exist for some species, but not for often-trapped so-called “unprotected furbearers” like coyotes and skunks. Reporting accuracy 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 directly conflicts with one of the state’s most valuable economic strengths: outdoor recreation. As demonstrated 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. One study found that the benefits to local economies of a single bobcat alive are approximately 1000 times greater than all combined values from trapping.
Piles of dead animals discarded by public roadways—vividly demonstrating the thousands of wild animals taken from New Mexico’s diverse public landscapes for personal profit—do not bolster the economy or present the state in a beneficial light.