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Just in time for trapping season, a coalition calling itself Trap Free New Mexico is launching a new online interactive map that tracks incidences of illegal trapping and locations where dogs, Mexican gray wolves and even people have been caught in traps.
Chris Smith, Southern Rockies wildlife advocate for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said the map posted on the trapfreenm.org website is intended to raise awareness about trapping activities in New Mexico and the harm they can cause to domestic pets, wildlife and, sometimes, people.
“For us, it’s about three things,” he said. “Empowering New Mexicans who don’t know trapping is going on, is prevalent and a public safety hazard; it’s a tool for when you encounter a trap or your dog steps in a trap to report it so we can get a better scale of trapping activities, and while it doesn’t capture all the thousands of illegal trappings that take place, it shows the toll trapping has had on New Mexico as a whole.”
Many of the incidents are on public land and the coalition is working to make trapping on such land illegal.
Trap Free New Mexico encourages people who have encounters with traps to record the incident on the website, as there is no other place that catalogs where trappings occur. Smith said the data would help to identify “hot spots” where domestic animals are being trapped, information that could be helpful to both pet-owners and the state Department of Game and Fish. He noted that each game warden is tasked with overseeing activities on 2,200 square miles of public land.
The map is marked by colored dots, each color representing a different kind of trapping incident. For instance, blue dots mark the spots where recorded illegal trappings of protected furbearing animals have occurred since 2016, from information procured through a public records request to Game and Fish. Yellow dots show where endangered Mexican gray wolves have been caught in traps, while red dots identify spots where dogs were snagged. Green dots indicate where other incidents occurred, like when a raven was caught in a leg hold trap near Farmington, and where a woman stepped in a trap near Albuquerque.
Other humans have been injured while attempting to free dogs or other animals from traps.
By clicking on a dot, a description of the incident, the date it occurred and, in some cases, a photograph of the trapped animal is shown.
“A dog named Sammy was out with his owner when he got caught in two traps – one foot in each trap,” says the description for one incident that happened near Santa Fe. “The owner was able to release him and Sammy ended up being OK.”
But not all incidents end so happily.
“Roxy was out for a walk with her owner when she got caught in a neck snare. Her owner was unable to figure out how to release her quickly enough and she strangled to death in his arms,” says the description for what became a high-profile incident last November.
Dave Clark had taken 8-year-old heeler mix Roxy out to the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area, Bureau of Land Management land, where he had taken her for walks many times before. But, this time, Roxy was snagged by a neck snare and strangled to death while Clark struggled to free her.
Months later, a bill that proposed to ban trapping on public lands was introduced in the state Legislature by state Reps. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos, Bobby Gonzales of Taos and Matthew McQueen of Galisteo. The bill was christened “Roxy’s law” after Clark’s beloved heeler, but it was postponed and never made it to the House floor. Advocates of the bill hope to revive it in 2021, as next year’s session is focused on the state budget.
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department is also considering a proposal that would ban traps and snares in some high-use areas and at hiking trailheads, but trapping opponents say that’s not enough. They want traps banned from all public land in New Mexico, especially now that New Mexico has established a new Office of Outdoor Recreation under the state’s Economic Development Department.
Mary Katherine Ray is with the Sierra Club. Two of the dots on the map represent experiences she had while out enjoying the outdoors in Socorro County. One was when her own dog got caught in a trap. Fortunately, it survived.
“No one should have to worry about their dog being caught, but the sad truth is that until these things are prohibited from public lands, they are a worry,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what Roxy’s family did.”
The other incident occurred when she and a group of friends came across a coyote caught in a trap. It was languishing, she said, and suffering from injuries.
“No one should bear witness to the cruelty to wildlife,” she said. “I’m still haunted by that.”
Coyotes and some types of skunks are two species that can legally be trapped year-round, even without a trapping license. That’s because they are considered nuisances and the state Legislature has not listed them among the protected furbearers, which are subject to trapping regulations established by the Game Commission.
Trapping season for protected furbearing animals, like badgers, beavers, bobcats, muskrats, ringtail cats and raccoons, began Friday and, for most of them, runs through March 15.
Efforts to reach the New Mexico Trappers Association through email and the contact page on its website for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
According to the website, the group serves to educate and train trappers in the wise use of renewable fur resources, as well as proper methods for taking targeted animals, regulations and laws, and ways to increase fur marketability.
It says that trapping is a tradition for many New Mexicans, especially those living in rural areas.
“Trapping for them is a way of life and, for some, trapping is a sole source of income. If we lose our right to trap in New Mexico, these families and hundreds of other trappers will lose their income and their heritage,” it says. “Trapping in New Mexico is a tradition. The continuation of our freedom to trap here is in constant jeopardy and threatened by those that are not educated in the benefits of trapping.”
James Pitman, assistant chief of information with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said more than 2,000 licenses to trap furbearing animals were issued last season. The licenses cost $20 for New Mexico residents and $345 for those who live out of state.
The department’s harvest report from the 2017-18 trapping season shows that 5,185 protected furbearing animals were trapped. The 2,353 grey foxes trapped accounted for 45% of the total. Bobcats were the next most trapped animal, with 1,814 caught that season.
That’s just the catches that were recorded, says WildEarth Guardian’s Smith, and it doesn’t include countless other trapping incidents that go unrecorded and the roughly 5,000 coyotes caught each year. Nor does it reflect the 37 Mexican gray wolves, a protected endangered species, caught since 1998, mostly in the Gila National Forest.
Traps are often set by ranchers to protect cattle from wolves. While most wolves caught in traps are freed and released, some are euthanized due to the severity of their injuries. As of last year, there were only about 130 Mexican gray wolves in the wild.
But Smith says the main intent of creating the map is to shed light on illegal trapping that puts pets and people at risk.
“My hope is that people will find it empowering, and help people to understand the scope and that it ultimately puts an end to trapping,” he said. “In some ways, this is really illuminating, but we know that it still represents just a tiny fraction of the legal trapping incidents that occur.”
Pitman at Game and Fish said the map could prove beneficial to them, as well.
“We haven’t seen it, but any reliable data that can assist the commission in the rule-making process could be useful,” he said.