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Trapping measure chock-full of problems

House Bill 579, the “N.M. Wildlife Protection and Public Safety Act,” aims to stop all trapping on public and private lands. The bill is loaded with errors — it bans cockroach baits — but even if amended back to animal protectionists’ long-stated goal of banning trapping on public lands, it would still cripple livestock and property protection and seriously impede wildlife management.

At its core, the bill is less about trapping than about a cultural clash, of one group’s desire to impose its values on others.

HB 579 does give a nod to foothold traps’ and snares’ value to wildlife managers, but limits their use “to protect threatened or endangered species.”

Wildlife biologists need traps and snares for much more, however. For example, a science-based cougar trapping program led directly to the desert bighorn’s recent removal from the state endangered species list. Ironically, under HB 579, wildlife managers would not be able to resume trapping until cougars chomped enough sheep to put them back on that very list. Foothold traps are also a critical tool in the Mexican wolf recovery program.

Allowances for protecting livestock or property are also inadequate. A property owner would have to document the threat and submit in writing that he’s tried all available nonlethal measures, then could apply to the game department for a single, 30-day trapping permit per year. What’s a landowner supposed to do during the other 11 months? Nothing. Instead, HB 579 will burden the game department with issuing hundreds of trapping permits and responding to depredations when permits expire but problems continue. Private trappers handle those now.

The bill would ban the sale of raw furs from any furbearer taken by traps, including furs from other states or Indian reservations. While animal activists emphasize that trapping has only nominal statewide economic impact, they gloss over its importance as income to rural families where jobs are scarce and often seasonal. In addition, many Native Americans use wild-caught furs in religious ceremonies.

The bill arrogantly squashes centuries-old culture, tradition and economics, which goes to the heart of the conflict. The bill’s very title asserts that wildlife needs to be “protected” from traps and that traps are inherently dangerous to people — both false but revealing premises.

That pattern was clear in Colorado and Arizona, where trapping was banned through petition and referendum. In essence, a majority largely made up of well-off, well-educated, white-collar urbanites ignorant of trapping’s genuine values decided to be appalled at the activities of a small number of mostly rural, lower income, blue-collar individuals. So voters banned it in spite of science, rational thought and fair play.

Wildlife professionals throughout North American recognize trapping as valuable to wildlife management and unequivocally support regulated trapping as a legitimate use of a renewable wildlife resource. New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation agree.

Issues like this are exactly why the New Mexico Wildlife Federation helped create the State Game Commission decades ago: to provide a public forum for wildlife issues and ensure that wildlife policy is based in science.

Despite the claims of some anti-trappers, the truth is that the commission and Department of Game and Fish have adopted additional rules to address trapping concerns in recent years, from new reporting to new educational requirements. We would encourage additional steps as well, but HB 579 is a mistake.

The legislation’s many absurdities actually prove exactly why New Mexico has a State Game Commission and Department of Game and Fish: in order to approach these types of issues with sound science and factual knowledge of wildlife management needs.

The State Game Commission listened to its wildlife biologists and wisely chose not to enact a blanket ban of trapping; we hope the Legislature will be as wise and reject HB 579, leaving wildlife management to the State Game Commission and biologists with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.