In the waning days of the Susana Martinez administration, the Department of Game and Fish and the state Game Commission entertained marginal changes to state trapping regulations. It was, in the words of former Game Commission Chair Paul Kienzle, “play(ing) some defense” with broader restrictions looming in the form of legislation. Basically, the Martinez Game Commission sought to save trapping from legislation by paying lip service to the concerns of those who oppose trapping and curbing the legislature’s appetite for the issue.
Months later, a new governor with a strong mandate appointed a new Game Commission, giving hope to the 69% of New Mexicans who oppose trapping. There was a buzz of optimism among people who have had dogs caught in traps and snares. There was fresh opportunity for the thousands of activists who have spent years – even decades – trying to get these cruel devices off New Mexico’s public lands.
The Aug. 22 Game Commission meeting was a disturbing reality check.
Department staff again proposed a suite of insignificant changes to the trapping rules. The agency touted closing off some areas of the state that are “high recreation use areas.” The new closures total a minuscule 0.5% of public lands in New Mexico. The reality is that New Mexicans recreate all over the state and encounter traps wherever they go. Public lands from the northern mountains to the southern deserts are an amazing asset where New Mexicans of all stripes (and their four-legged friends) go to hike, camp, hunt, fish, bike, ride horses, run, or just enjoy the landscape. This is part of the dream of the American West. Traps are a nightmare.
No antidote was offered for the current “kill as many as you can” policy; there are no bag limits for native species like bobcats, foxes, badgers, beavers, muskrats, ringtails, coyotes or ermine. The department proposes continuing this unsustainable policy and is reliant on trappers’ estimations rather than science to justify it. The department’s assertion that bobcat populations are healthy rested partially on a graph titled “Trapper Opinion on Bobcat Population Trend.” There is little if any real scientific data on how bobcats and other species are faring in shrinking, hotter, drier habitats.
The department suggested increased setbacks from trailheads for trapping, but there is no data to suggest this will curtail trapping along trails themselves. Mandatory trapper education is proposed, but that’s a no-brainer that should have been implemented decades ago, not some great new cure-all.
Governor Lujan Grisham’s Game Commission members took the opportunity to express their enthusiasm for trapping. Commission Chair Joanna Prukop said that she had “overwhelmed the commission” with pro-trapping articles before the meeting. Commissioner Salazar-Henry inquired whether private trappers could engage in agency trapping efforts (like bighorn sheep recovery) and whether the department would consider opening now-closed wildlife management areas to trapping. Commissioner Jeremy Vesbach touted the paltry proposal as a “solution” that would allow trapping to continue, though he did softly bring up bag limits in the discussion.
Essentially, the Department and the Commission are attempting to tidy up the edges of a disaster and call it good. Near a few urban areas, they half-heartedly seek to prevent high-profile events that damage trapping’s image, while leaving the rest of the public and native wildlife in danger of falling victim to these cruel, indiscriminate devices. This tactic is analogous to leaving narrow strips of trees along roads to hide massive clearcuts in the watersheds of the Pacific Northwest. It’s little more than superficial.
In continuing the Martinez administration’s defense of trapping, this Game Commission – the Lujan Grisham commission – is acting against the interests of most New Mexicans, against native wildlife, against public lands, and against the governor’s mandate to bring our environmental policies into the 21st century.
New Mexicans overwhelmingly want traps off public lands. New Mexico needs to confront this cruelty. We deserve better.
Christopher Smith, of Santa Fe, is part of the staff at WildEarth Guardians