Editor’s Note: This commentary was written in response to a guest column published by the Sun on Dec. 4. Entitled “New Mexico: Land of Entrapment,” the column advocated for the passage of “Roxy’s Law,” which would prohibit trapping on public lands to prevent the ensnarement of non-furbearers and horrifying hikers who stumble across captured pets or dumps of skinned animals.
It seems to be a common but false premise that trapping interferes or conflicts with the tourism industry. This is not a zero-sum game; both can and have existed forever. New Mexico’s public lands are used by everyone, and the New Mexico Trapping Association recognizes that fact. But we do not want to see the loss of trapping, in part because it is a valuable wildlife management tool that, I would argue, benefits tourism. Wildlife observation and hunting is a major reason people visit New Mexico, and modern traps and regulated trapping help to manage all wildlife at sustainable levels.
Trapping does not cause wildlife to become endangered or threatened because the species which trappers are allowed to harvest are plentiful and widespread. In fact, trapping increases biodiversity. The highly regulated harvest of furbearing predators benefits commonly viewed and photographed prey species like mule deer, elk, waterfowl, upland game species and songbirds, as well as rarer species like bighorn sheep. It has aided in the recovery or reintroduction of species that were extinct in the state, most recently including river otter and Mexican grey wolves.
Counterintuitively, the harvest of furbearers benefits the species being harvested by keeping populations within sustainable levels, thereby reducing issues like starvation and disease (rabies, distemper, parvo, tularemia, leptospirosis, pseudorabies, toxoplasmosis, baylisascaris procyonis), which can devastate furbearer populations and even impact humans and pets. In addition to reducing disease threats to human and pet health and safety, trapping can help limit crop, pet or livestock losses and damage to private property.
Modern foothold traps, when set legally, are safe, humane and selective. Poachers, not legal trappers, have been the cause of nearly every single conflict between traps and non-furbearers in recent history in New Mexico. The highly publicized example of this was the dog caught and killed north of Santa Fe a year or two ago. Although portrayed as a “trapper,” the poacher who caused the dog’s death was no more a trapper than the person who kills a deer out of season and cuts the head off is a “hunter.” Poaching is illegal, and poachers are not representative of the vast majority of hunters or trappers. New Mexico’s trappers want all poachers to be caught and prosecuted.
Outlawing or banning trapping will not make them go away, either. There will always be people who violate the game laws. By educating the public and trappers and advocating (believe it or not) for stricter trapping laws, the New Mexico Trappers Association hopes to reduce conflicts without barring an entire group of sportsmen/women from using their public lands because of the illegal actions of a few bad apples.
NMTA pushed for the New Mexico State Game Commission to make trapper education mandatory. Effective last April, every New Mexican purchasing a trapper license is required to take a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish-approved education course prior to setting any trap or snare. Trapping was already the most highly regulated wildlife-related activity in the state, and the Game Commission recently enacted ever stricter trapping laws, which NMTA supported and, in some cases, demanded because we wanted to reduce the chances of conflicts.
The new restrictions included the largest setback law in the U.S. of which I am are aware. It prohibits setting traps within a half-mile of any campground, trailhead, boat launch, rest area, picnic area or occupied dwelling. Trappers are not allowed to set traps on trails or roads—places where most people walk their dogs. (Trapping in town and other off-limits areas has been illegal for decades.) The new laws passed by the Game Commission last year incorporated, wherever possible, best management practices developed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which is comprised of professional wildlife biologists from every state in the Union and the Canadian provinces. AFWA’s extensive studies have, for example, resulted in strict rules designating which traps are allowed and which are prohibited.
Trapping regulations, including bag limits, are scientifically based, written by professional wildlife biologists, who work tirelessly to appropriately manage New Mexico’s wildlife for the benefit of all New Mexicans, and strictly enforced by game wardens trained in catching and prosecuting poachers. NMDGF reviews furbearer regulations every four years to continually develop or update rules, educational programs and capture methods (including consideration of animal welfare). NMDGF’s 2020-2021 furbearer rules and information booklet, which includes a good tutorial about how to release a dog safely from a trap, is available on the department’s website or from any license vendor free of charge.
I hope this information from an actual trapper helps your readers understand trapping a little better and see the difference between sportsmen/women and poachers.