Beginning in April, it will be illegal to use traps, snares and wildlife poison on public lands in New Mexico.
That’s one positive outcome from the tragic death of an Española dog name Roxy — but it’s hard to be optimistic about the new law’s ability to be effective.
Here’s why: The same agency that will investigate violations of the new anti-trapping law, dubbed “Roxy’s Law” — the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish — handled the investigation of Roxy’s death.
In 2018, a neck snare strangled Roxy, a blue heeler mix, near a hiking trail at Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area north of Española. Marty Cordova, of Chimayó, was charged with 34 counts of illegal trapping activities: 14 counts of unlawful possession of a protected species, 10 counts of failure to mark traps, and five counts each for trapping within 25 yards of a roadway and failure to check traps on a daily basis.
Public attention over Roxy’s death led to a hard-fought campaign to pass the new law, formally known as the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law last spring after it passed the state House by a single vote.
This month, a jury acquitted Cordova, a Chimayó trapper, of 10 counts of illegal trapping, three years after state officials alleged he set a snare that strangled Roxy.
Cordova’s lawyer, Yvonne K. Quintana, pointed out problems with evidence, including failure to collect snares and traps from the field, and the destruction of photographic evidence.
To be fair, the Game and Fish investigation appeared to be compromised by some Bureau of Land Management procedures. Traps in BLM custody “were not turned over to the Department of Game and Fish, but were destroyed, per their policy, when a case is resolved,” said Jennifer Padgett Macias, 1st Judicial District chief deputy district attorney. Resolved bureaucratically does not mean resolved criminally, folks.
The snare involved in Roxy’s death was destroyed when it was cut off the dog’s body, she said.
The jury found Cordova not guilty of all charges. Would that have been the case had the investigation been without blunders? We’ll never know. But it’s clear wildlife investigators need to do a better job of collecting and safeguarding evidence — or turn it over to someone who can.
And it’s clear the state would have had a much stronger case had Roxy’s Law been in place when she was caught in that snare.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.