By Mary Katherine Ray/Chapter Wildlife Chair
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department has recently offered a few minor changes to the trapping rules as a disappointing result of trapping stakeholder meetings held last winter. Though we are grateful to state Sen. Pete Campos, who sponsored the bill to ban traps on public land in the 2017 Legislature and who urged Game and Fish to bring trappers and conservation interests together, the proposed changes won’t address the cruelty that traps inflict, how indiscriminate traps are by nature and the lack of even basic scientific population information about the species trappers seek.
The Game and Fish Department has proposed increasing the distance that a trap can be hidden from a road or trail from 25 to 50 yards. However, some paths don’t even qualify as trails because they aren’t on agency maps. Trappers oppose this increased distance because it will take them longer to check their traps and they won’t be able to set as many. This will eat into their profits. Still, no matter how far the setback distance, the public should not be required to be confined to narrow trail corridors when the vast expanses of our wild places beckon. The public is granted free access to all of it, on and off trail.
Game and Fish has offered to place warning signs at trailheads where traps might be present. Beyond the enormous expense to do this for thousands of trailheads across the state, the effect will doubtless be a chilling one for people who use these trails. While tourism is one of New Mexico’s top industries, such signs will surely discourage tourists and residents alike from using our public lands at all. Trappers oppose signs at specific trap locations because they fear trap tampering and theft.
The Department proposes to allow its director, in consultation with the Game Commission chair, to close some areas to trapping, though there is no guarantee that any closure would ever be enacted.
In any event, at the latest Game Commission meeting in Roswell on Nov. 30, the commission did not indicate that they are seriously considering adopting any of these rule changes. No motions were made and no votes were taken. The chair of the commission has repeatedly assured trappers they want to protect trapping.
In addition to opposing these changes, some trappers have gone as far as to say that public land should be closed to dogs completely during the 4.5-month trapping season and that the public should be required to learn how traps work and become comfortable with trapping. Trappers even offered an egregious proposal of their own: that the trap check time should be increased from one to three days, allowing a trapped animal to linger in pain and suffering for 72 long hours.
Clearly, the Martinez Administration Game Commission and Game and Fish Department have viewed themselves as the guardians of trapping, not the broader public interest. The new Legislature will be convening in January, and this offers the path where outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife can find relief from trapping on our public lands. The urgency is only growing given that a trap has now resulted in a dog’s death (see page 7). Contact your legislators and urge them to support the bill to end the use of traps and poisons on our public lands. (see www.nmlegis.gov for contact information.) Attend a Sierra Club lobby training. Watch for the scheduling of bill hearings so you can attend. “Like” our Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club Facebook page so you can get updates. Sign the petition at www.TrapFreeNM.org. The status quo is entrenched and powerful, but together, bringing the pressure of our voices to bear, maybe this year, a TrapFree New Mexico can become a reality.
Reforming the Game Commission
The Game Commission is a seven-member board appointed by the governor. Appointees are not required to have any background in wildlife science or any qualification that ensures competent, rational wildlife policy-making.
The Game Commission was established in the 1920s, and since then, interest in wildlife has expanded beyond hunting to viewing, photography and general appreciation. The Game Commission should be representative and inclusive of this much wider constituency.
A bill will be introduced to require commissioner qualifications and better representation, making this commission less reliant on the whims (and campaign donations) of whoever is governor at the time.
Featured image: Roxy died in a snare Nov 2018 Santa Cruz Lakes, by Dave Clark