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Trapping ban on public land awaits governor’s signature

“Roxy’s Law” was named for a blue heeler dog who strangled to death in 2018 after being caught in an illegal trap in the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area north of Española. (Courtesy of Dave Clark)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

It was a photo finish in the New Mexico House of Representatives at the end of this year’s legislative session.

By just one vote and with no time to spare, the House voted March 18 in favor of Senate Bill 32, which sought to ban most furbearer trapping from public lands in New Mexico, on March 18.

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, cast the tie-breaking vote that gave the bill a narrow 35-34 majority.

It now requires a signature from Gov. Michelle Lujan before becoming law. If that happens, the law would take effect April 1, 2022.

The law would ban most forms of trapping of furbearing animals on public lands, with a few exceptions – such as Native Americans who trap for religious purposes.

Jessica Johnson of Animal Protection Voters, who served as an expert witness during the legislative session, said it was an emotional experience when the bill finally passed.

“It just feels really heartening, because myself and so many advocates had been working on this issue for over a decade,” Johnson said.

A similar bill had been introduced two years prior, but died on the House floor. This year, it squeaked through the House, but won approval in the Senate by a 23-16 margin.

The bill, dubbed “Roxy’s Law,” is named after a blue heeler dog killed by a strangle trap in north Santa Fe County in 2018.

Nine dogs have been caught in traps since the beginning of this latest trapping season, according to Animal Protection Voters.

One of those dogs belonged to Terry Miller of White Rock, whose dog Jessie was caught in a foot trap, which also caught Miller, last November. Miller, who conducts search-and-rescue missions with her dogs, said she was relieved the bill had passed both legislative chambers.

“I didn’t realize traps were still so prevalent in public areas outside of Los Alamos County – until I got trapped,” she said.

The bill was sponsored by Sens. Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales of Rancho de Taos and Brenda McKenna of Corrales, and Reps. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos and Matthew McQueen of Galisteo – all Democrats. But the party was hardly unified around the measure. Nine Democrats voted against the bill, most from more rural parts of the state.

One of them, Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, had previously said he was hesitant to support the bill because of its implications to the market for pelts that local Indigenous tribes and nations rely on.

Opponents of the bill argued trapping is an effective tool to manage animals that prey on livestock.

Bronson Corn, president of the New Mexico Wool Growers Association, said sheep and goats are especially susceptible to such predators as coyotes.

“Not only the sheep and goat industry in New Mexico, but also the cattle industry, is going to be decimated by this,” Corn said.

He said predation accounts for 15% of livestock deaths and that ranchers in New Mexico heavily rely on public lands for their herds to graze. No trapping in these areas, he said, could lead to more animals killed.

Johnson said she was not surprised the vote was so close, adding that pro-trapping lobbyists around the country had been calling legislators to campaign against the bill.

John Daniel, president of the National Trappers Association, said he was aware of the bill, but that he wouldn’t comment until the governor reached a decision.

Corn said he had lobbied against the bill, adding that the close vote signals a divide between rural and urban New Mexicans around the issue.

“I’m extremely disappointed that people who don’t know what goes into everyday life in agriculture are trying to make rules designating what we can and cannot use as tools,” he said.

Similar bans have been enacted in Colorado, Arizona, Washington and California.