Here in New Mexico, the status quo for wildlife protection and conservation is already abysmal. The last thing we want is for things to get even worse.
But last week, the most egregious wildlife management decision in recent history came into effect: Starting Nov. 1, widespread recreational cougar trapping and snaring was allowed for the first time in nearly 50 years.
This moment comes more than a year after the N.M. State Game Commission unanimously approved the N.M. Department of Game and Fish’s proposed Cougar Rule.
That new law permits trapping and snaring on approximately 9 million acres of state trust lands that spread across nearly every county in New Mexico, and it eliminates special permit requirements that previously provided a modest control on setting traps and snares for cougars on privately owned land.
What kind of treacherous devices are we talking about here? The commission is allowing leg-hold traps that contain a spring-loaded trigger that violently closes two steel jaws around the leg of an animal. The trap can shatter bones.
The Cougar Rule will also increase the presence of snares that cinch metal cables tightly around an animal’s foot. Captured animals often further injure themselves while thrashing or even chewing off their own limb while trying to escape.
Traps, even under the current law, can easily go unchecked for long enough that the animal dies – of starvation, dehydration, exposure, or killed by another animal – before being found.
The cruelty inherent in trapping and snaring is why, according to an August 2015 poll, New Mexican voters oppose traps by a three-to-one margin.
Traps are also indiscriminate in the tragedies they inflict. Like land mines, traps routinely detonate on non-target animals – family dogs while hiking, federally protected endangered species of similar size sharing the same habitat and nursing cougar mothers who are protected under state law.
That’s why Animal Protection of New Mexico, joined by The Humane Society of the United States and several concerned New Mexico citizens, is challenging the Cougar Rule in state and federal court.
The New Mexico citizens who have joined us in this legal fight come from all walks of life. And they agree that the dramatic expansion of cougar trapping is dangerous, irresponsible, and scientifically unjustifiable.
After all, there is zero evidence to show why methods of killing New Mexico’s cougars should be expanded in the first place.
Although the current annual cougar harvest limit is set at 749, no more than 300 cougars have been killed for sport or depredation in any year since 1981, when Game and Fish began tracking cougar mortality numbers.
In fact, the nation’s top cougar biologists assert that New Mexico’s harvest limit is dramatically higher than is sustainable, according to the best available scientific studies.
Wildlife management decisions that ignore and directly conflict with biological science and ethics – and allowing people to scatter barbaric traps and snares across the state to maim and kill protected cougars, endangered species, our dogs, and countless other animals – are plainly unacceptable.
Although the cougar trapping season has already begun, it’s not too late for the Game Commission to take matters into its own hands by revising the Cougar Rule, to ensure our state’s laws reflect the vast majority of New Mexicans’ values, and put an end to widespread cougar trapping.
But until that happens, we are committed to using every tool at our disposal – including the work our lobbying arm, Animal Protection Voters, undertakes to pass legislation to ban traps on public lands – to save as many animals as we can, as soon as we can, every time we can.