New Mexico has a problem with traps on public lands. The ongoing destruction inflicted by hidden, baited, steel jaw traps is well documented. Users of public lands, companion animals and wildlife, including endangered species, continue to suffer the harm inflicted by these cruel, indiscriminate devices. In response to this crisis, the Game Department has proposed closing off 0.5% of New Mexico’s public lands to trapping. This proposed rule change is a very small step toward improving public safety, but leaves 99.5% of public lands at risk. If the Game Department is serious about protecting public safety, this closure should be statewide and permanent.
Current regulations allow trappers to set as many traps and kill as many animals as they want for a fee of just $20. It is an absurd claim that unlimited, indiscriminate killing could be part of scientifically informed modern wildlife management. Polls shows that some 70% of New Mexicans oppose trapping on public lands. Our neighboring states of Arizona and Colorado banned traps 25 years ago and more than 100 countries worldwide have banned traps due to their extreme cruelty. Despite clearly articulated public opposition, the Game Department continues to promote this deadly activity.
The governor-appointed Game Commission and the Game Department it oversees continue to demonstrate a disturbing degree of disregard for their constituents, the people of New Mexico, the vast majority of whom are non-consumptive wildlife users. During a recent rule-making process, the Game Commission received thousands of comments requesting a ban on public land trapping. These requests have been flatly ignored. Wildlife policies that lack broad public support lack legitimacy. By ignoring public opinion, the Game Commission betrays core principles of good governance and the wildlife resource it exists to protect.
Endangered Mexican wolves continue to be caught in traps set for coyotes with disturbing frequency and devastating results. Since their reintroduction, at least 39 wolves, including pups, are known to have been caught, maimed or killed by traps. For a wild population of just 131 individuals, traps pose a grave threat to recovery. The Game Department is well aware of this, but refuses to close wolf recovery areas to trapping. Both wolves and coyotes are critical to ecological health. By allowing their destruction, the Game Department exhibits an obscene hostility for the recovery of endangered species and a profound disregard for basic ecology.
The Game Department portrays itself as the ultimate scientific and ethical authority over wildlife in New Mexico, but this is the same Game Department that did nothing to stop coyote killing contests. The state legislature had to step in and stop the slaughter. The Game Department states that only “fair chase” hunting is ethical, but killing trapped animals can hardly be considered fair chase. The Department claims to uphold the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which states that wildlife should be protected from commercial exploitation. But the fur from animals trapped and killed in New Mexico is regularly sold in commercial statewide auctions. This is a direct violation of the wildlife ethics the Department claims to uphold.
Another trapping season is upon us. From Nov. 1 until March 15, an estimated 25,000 animals will die horrible, prolonged deaths in icy, limb-crushing steel jaw traps and strangulation snares. This wanton waste of wildlife serves no constructive purpose and is obscenely out of place in modern society; 99.9% of New Mexicans do not trap and do not want their wildlife reduced to skinned, rotting carcass piles. Tradition can be no excuse for abuse. Given the merciless, indiscriminate destruction the traps inflict, banning them from public lands is both sorely needed and long overdue.
Governance should help us solve our problems, not perpetuate them. When a state agency actively ignores its constituents, there’s a real problem. This is the governor’s appointed Game Commission. If you don’t like their policies, the governor needs to hear from you: https://www.governor.state.nm.us/contact-the-governor/.
Charle Fox lives in Santa Fe