It may still come as a surprise that in 2019, it is still legal in New Mexico to hide a steel-jawed leg-hold trap or strangling wire snare on our public lands in order to catch any one of 16 kinds of native wild animal that includes bobcats, foxes and badgers to profit from the sale of their fur.
Trapping is legal with the approval of the State Game Commission with the purchase of a $20 license. In recent years, dozens of hikers’ dogs have been caught in traps hidden on land open to the public, including my own. The number of reported incidents is most certainly just the tip of the iceberg. The only incidents the public knows about have been reported to TrapFreeNM.org, a coalition of conservation and animal protection groups.
Traps can be hidden a mere 25 yards from a road or designated trail. As I found out only 18 months ago, traps can also legally be placed right in the middle of a nondesignated game trail when one of my dogs stepped in one buried right in the path.
I was looking at birds in the wide canyon bottom. My camera was out and my two dogs were both leashed beside me. A road runs up one side of this canyon, but I don’t like to walk on it — I don’t want to be where traffic might be. And interesting wildlife I like to view doesn’t confine itself just to roads. Hikers, birdwatchers and hunters are not required to stay only on roads or agency trails.
I will never forget my dog’s screams. I have made a point to learn how to open a trap and, thankfully, this one was a kind that I physically could open. I had her out within a minute. Still her foot and my hand were both injured in the frantic rescue. It felt like someone had committed an assault on me. It felt like violent crime.
The State Game Commission is now considering the closure of some limited areas to trapping, including a half-mile on either side of the road from Santa Fe to the ski basin, presumably because it gets high use. That any areas have been proposed for closure is a nod that traps and public use are not compatible. If approved, it is wonderful that hikers and wildlife in these limited places won’t be at risk. But why should this not be true everywhere? Do animals in the Sacramento Mountains suffer any less? Are critically endangered Mexican wolves harmed or maimed by traps in the Gila region not worthy of protection from trap injury? Are hikers like me in Socorro County or around Santa Fe of no consequence?
We don’t accept that a little bit of thievery is OK as long as it happens to only a few people. A little bit of fraud is not OK even if only a few are conned. These things are illegal because they are wrong. Trapping anywhere that others can be harmed is wrong too.
At the State Game Commission meeting in August, one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s newly appointed commissioners told of having met with trappers and that they were really nice guys. Well, I’m a nice person, too. This isn’t a personality contest. It is about justice and morality. It is about what is right. Hiding traps on our public lands isn’t.
If you agree, visit wildlife.state.nm.us/commission/proposals-under-consideration to read about the inadequate changes to the trapping rules and for the link where you can submit written comments.
Mary Katherine Ray is the volunteer wildlife chairwoman for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. She lives, hikes and photographs wildlife near her home in a remote part of Socorro County.