New Mexico: Land of Entrapment

by Mary Katherine Ray | December 4, 2020
5 min read
Discovered lying in a hole she had dug to die in by a group of out-of-state hikers, this dog named Mahlia, caught in a steel leg-trap in northern Santa Fe County in mid-November, was freed the next day by a NMDog rescue party. Photograph courtesy of NMDog

Many people are surprised to learn that fur trapping—the exploitative relic of the 1800s—still goes on today in our crowded, fragile world. Worse, the steel-jawed devices and wire neck-snares that trappers still use can be hidden on our public lands, including national forests, Bureau of Land Management and state trust lands, where they may harm hikers, wildlife watchers and others. Trappers seek to profit from the capture and killing of the public’s wildlife—animals like bobcats, foxes, coyotes and badgers—by selling their pelts into the international market. But, every year in New Mexico, traps also slam shut on unintended victims: dogs walking with their people, birds like ravens and even endangered species like the Mexican wolf.

So far in only the four weeks that the trapping season has been open in New Mexico this year, three dogs have been ensnared. And those are only the incidents we at Trapfree New Mexico know about. There is no database or official place to report these traumas, so the actual figure is likely much higher.

Sometimes the owners can act quickly and are able to extricate their dog with a minimum of injury, which almost always involves the dog’s screaming in pain, swelling where the trap landed and biting of the rescuers. On Thanksgiving Day, when a hiker’s highly trained search-and-rescue dog was trapped near Jemez Springs, people got her out with difficulty, but after only a short time. Thankfully, the incident occurred on a walk for pleasure, not a search mission.

The weekend before that, hikers stumbled upon a dog that did not belong to them, languishing in a steel leg-trap in northern Santa Fe County. The only way they could tell the dog was still alive was that she blinked when they approached. They were unable to remove the trap and, after giving the animal water and turkey jerky, had to leave it alone overnight before they could get help. Imagine the torment of having to walk away from an animal in agony.

Mahlia's injured paw
A veterinarian inspects the damage the leg-trap wreaked on Mahlia’s paw. Photograph courtesy of NMDog

At first light the next morning, a NMDog rescue party made the two-hour hike back to the dog, expecting the worst. Miraculously Mahlia was still alive. She’s going to be okay after several thousand dollars in veterinary expenses that included surgery to amputate the destroyed part of her foot. The trapper is not required to pay these expenses.

In the case of wire neck-snares, the outcome can be much more tragic. In 2018, a hiker held his ensnared dog, Roxy, while she suffocated to death in his arms. He was unable to figure out how to work the release mechanism of the wire crushing her windpipe in time to save her.

That year, a bill was introduced at the state legislature that prohibited the setting of traps and poisons on New Mexico public lands. The bill was fittingly named “Roxy’s law.” It passed both of its House of Representative committees, but did not make it to the floor before the session expired. Similar legislation had been introduced three times previously, but had never progressed even that far.

Surely the time has come to end the awful carnage traps inflict, not just on companion animals, but also on our native wildlife. Despite repeatedly asking the New Mexico State Game Commission to better regulate traps, this past year the commission adopted only an incremental change that increased the distance where a trap can be set near an official trailhead or campground to one half-mile. Traps can still be placed a mere 25 yards from an official trail or road. User-created roads or wildlife trails don’t meet the definition for even that modest restriction.

There are still no bag limits on any “furbearing” species. Trappers can kill an unlimited number of bobcats or foxes or coyotes. This is why a hiker in Doña Ana County was horrified to come across dozens of skinned and dumped coyote carcasses the Friday before Thanksgiving. It looked like a scene from a horror movie. Trapping dismisses the importance these animals have in nature in maintaining the balance of the food web. The attitude that they are expendable is ignorant and arrogant.

Skinned and dumped bodies of trapped coyotes
Skinned and dumped bodies of coyotes trapped for their pelts in Doña Ana County last month. The red circle marks a visible trap wound. Photograph by Kevin Bixby courtesy of Southwest Environmental Center

Our neighboring state of Arizona passed a measure banning traps and poisons on public lands more than years ago. Colorado to our north adopted a complete statewide ban on these devices a couple of years later. Statewide bans also exist in California and Washington state and a few states in the East. New Mexico depends on tourism revenue, and we are at a distinct disadvantage when we place visitors wishing to explore the Land of Enchantment in harm’s way. Especially now during the pandemic, when being outdoors is one of the safest forms of recreation still available to us, the continuing assault caused by hidden traps is unforgivable.

The legislature meets again in January. Will this be the year our public lands become trap free? You can help to make that happen. Please visit to learn more, sign our  petition and contact your state senator and representative. (You can find their names and contact information at Ask them to support Roxy’s law. A hike on our public lands should not end in trauma or tragedy. The animal species that “bear fur” have value to nature far and above their pelt price.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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