If you’ve been around New Mexico enough, you’ve likely seen New Mexico Department of Game and Fish vehicles with stickers that read “Take a child hunting, fishing or trapping.” This message is seemingly innocuous and encourages young people – who are outside less and less – to get out into New Mexico’s wonderful outdoors. However, there are two reasons to rethink this message.
Hunting and angling – when done right and informed by the best available science – are fair-chase pursuits of food and learning. Trapping is, at best, a financial net-zero activity that perpetuates cruelty, privatizes a public resource, and endangers the safety of people, companion animals and imperiled species.
Trapping is highly unregulated in New Mexico: no bag limits, no accountability when companion animals are trapped, minimal setbacks from trails, homes and campgrounds, and little enforcement. Yet, the agency charged with stewarding our state’s wildlife perpetually calls for this activity not only to continue, but also to be taught to children.
The overarching message of “Take a child hunting, fishing or trapping” is also a problematic plea for money. It indicates a state agency that is stuck in the past without the vision and leadership needed to thrive in the 21st century.
Nationwide, hunting is declining. Demographic shifts, changing attitudes, increased urbanization, and threats to public land and access will likely see that decline become more pronounced in the not-so-distant-future. So far, this trend has not played out as strongly in New Mexico, but that could very well change. In spite of this trend, New Mexico Game and Fish relentlessly pursues the same – possibly disappearing – revenue stream that it has for a century: hunting and fishing license sales. Meanwhile, participation in activities like hiking, camping, and wildlife and landscape photography continues to grow and contributes to the state’s economy.
Game and Fish does this through “recruitment and retention,” two words that are ubiquitous among state game agencies across the West and two words that former Department director Alexa Sandoval preached in a Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting in May. A steady stream of Department emails aims to recruit youth to “hunter education” camps across the state. These camps are often co-sponsored by groups such as Safari Club International, which espouses thrill killing and trophy hunting. This effort echoes the same tired line of thinking: “Our clientele is aging and turning elsewhere, let’s double down on the same business model.”
Remaining inflexibly wed to an outdated business model is likely not sustainable much longer. Knowing that the world is changing, it is imprudent to ignore and not actively pursue other revenue sources. But, most problematic, it is abhorrent to perpetuate a cruel, archaic and unscientific practice along the way. That is exactly what Game and Fish is doing with stickers encouraging trapping. Instead, the Department ought to give up on cruel, archaic and unscientific trapping that is not supported by the vast majority of the public.
The Department needs to change. That means subsidizing current revenue streams with some combination of fees and licenses for so-called “non-consumptive” users, a tax on outdoor recreation gear and general fund dollars. It also needs to include all stakeholders in policy-making processes. With a new Game and Fish director and an upcoming change in governor, this is all possible in the near future. We, the public, need to make it known that we expect the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to make 21st-century wildlife policy with a funding model that will carry the agency into the future.
Christopher Smith is the Southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians.