A step forward on animal trapping in New Mexico

From Denise Fort,
Rio Grande Chapter Energy & Climate Change Chair

On November 29th the Santa Fe County Commission unanimously passed a resolution directing the staff to support efforts to end trapping on federal lands within the County and additionally to support state legislative efforts to ban trapping. At the hearing on the resolution a parade of witnesses talked about the cruelty of trapping, the economic value of wildlife, especially in a state like our’s, and how trapping has interfered with people’s use of the public lands. I tend to think about wildlife populations when I’m thinking about trapping, but some of the most moving testimony came from people who had dogs caught in traps. The terror of the dogs, and of the people who tried to rescue them, spoke very strongly to the Commissioners. (In a letter printed below, our own Mary Katherine also described her realization that she might have been injured, on her own, and far away from help.)

I’ve learned more than I wanted to know about body gripping traps and their use in New Mexico, as we’ve dug into this issue. Unlike many of the environmentally damaging practices that we encounter, it’s important to remember that it’s a miniscule number of people who choose to do this. And the money they receive for the carcasses comes from sales to foreign buyers, who are using our wildlife to ornament coats. We’re not talking hunting for food. Finally, there is limited regulation for the trapping of some species, but it’s open season on coyotes and other unprotected species.

What can you do? Talk to your state senators and representatives, write letters to the editor about the need for regulation, meet with federal land managers, and consider approaching your county commission. We have public opinion on our side and soon will have state laws which match our state’s appreciation for wildlife.

From Mary Katherine Ray, Rio Grande Chapter Wildlife Chair

Dear Santa Fe County Commissioners,

Please support the upcoming resolution to allow county employees to advocate for trap free public lands. I live adjacent to Cibola National Forest lands in Socorro county and know firsthand about how terrible leg-hold traps are. I and my dogs first encountered one while on a hike in 2004 that was hidden under leaves. My dogs were attracted to the odor lure used by the trapper as bait. Because they were leashed, we all went over to investigate. Just by luck I stepped in such a way that I kicked the trap so that it slammed closed harmlessly. But it was when I discovered that I could not have opened it alone – and I was alone – and that I could not have dug out the staked cable because the ground was frozen and I had no tools, and that I was a 90 minute walk from my vehicle and there was no help anywhere nearby – I realized with horror the extent of the catastrophe we had dodged.

None of us was physically harmed by this experience, but I have not been back to this location. In my mind it is tainted and unsafe. I think twice about where I go walking in the woods in winter now. The peace I used to have outside has been compromised. NM Game and Fish does not keep records of stories like mine. No one knows how often traps hurt hikers and their dogs. Nor does anyone know how much of an impact these incidents have on our tourism. But I promise this, had this episode happened to me as a traveler and not someone who is committed to live here- I would not come back. I can’t imagine the trauma someone would feel to have their dog physically hurt or of having to seek veterinary care especially in a place with which they are not familiar.

It makes no sense to allow this very small group of  people – trappers – to have so much impact on all other forms of recreation on public lands. In the winter of 2015-16, only 1,671 “furbearer” licenses were sold statewide. No license is needed to trap for coyotes or skunks so there are no records of the true number of traps being set. NM Game and Fish also does not know where any traps are located even on public land. Only the trapper who set them knows that. Trappers are not required to report the non-target animals they catch by mistake or what happens to these creatures. They can kill an unlimited number of their targeted species- NM Game and Fish imposes no bag limit at all these animals. Neither the public nor our wildlife is being served by this disregard. I urge the County Commission to step into this vacuum and protect Santa Feans, and all New Mexicans, tourists, our dogs and our wildlife from cruel and indiscriminate traps.

Mary Katherine Ray

More information: Trap-free New Mexico | Animal Protection New Mexico | WildEarth Guardians

Featured image: Coyote leg trap, photo by Joyce Fay

A step forward on animal trapping in New Mexico