Most trapping on public lands in New Mexico will become illegal if the governor signs SB 32, the “Wildlife Conservation & Public Safety Act.” The bill passed by the legislature last week with a one-vote margin, and if signed it would prohibit leghold, body-gripping, and cage traps, as well as snares and poison, with few narrow exceptions for pest control and research.
The bill’s sponsors and supporters say this is a necessary step to prevent injury for pets and people, according to the Albuquerque Journal. It’s nicknamed “Roxy’s Law” after a dog that was killed in an illegal snare outside Santa Fe in 2018.
“This bill is about making sure New Mexicans can enjoy their public lands,” sponsor Rep. Matthew McQueen said. “People want to be able to feel safe coming here and enjoying them.”
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and many other conservation groups are strongly opposed to the bill and have lobbied hard against it. They point to the fact that the New Mexico Fish & Game Commission enacted new limits on trapping methods and equipment only last year, as well as mandatory certification classes and prohibitions on trapping near population centers and trailheads. Those regulations have only been in effect for a few months.
Jesse Deubel, executive director of the NMWF, told MeatEater that the new rules should be allowed to work before scrapping the entire system. He believes that trapping is an important wildlife conservation tool and a legitimate use of renewable wildlife resources.
Deubel said that animal rights activists working to ban trapping commonly present highly emotional reports about the inadvertent trapping of pets. However, nearly all these incidents involved illegal, unregistered traps. He said that his organization believes it is “fundamentally unfair” to hold the state’s responsible trappers accountable for the actions of a few scofflaws. Outlawing trapping in response to these incidents would be equivalent to outlawing hunting statewide in response to a few poachers.
“The narrative tends to be around pets being caught in traps. Sure, it’s tragic, but it’s not like this is happening all over the place,” Deubel said. “The narrative around it has been tourists don’t want to come to New Mexico because it’s too dangerous to recreate on our public lands. I spend more days a year on public land in New Mexico than probably most people and never once have I ever been concerned about the fact that there’s traps out there. In fact, you almost never ever see one. The majority of the conflicts that have occurred are illegal trap sets.”
Deubel said that animal rights groups have been trying to pass a trapping ban in New Mexico for a decade now, viewing the practice as low-hanging fruit in a wider effort to end hunting and other traditional pursuits.
“The earlier versions of the bill were completely unrealistic,” he said. “It would have made it illegal for you to use a mouse trap around your home. Even one of those glue traps to catch cockroaches would have been illegal.”
The latest iteration of that effort passed the New Mexico Senate 23-16 but hung in the House at 34-34 during three hours of fierce debate, broken by a vote in favor from Rep. Susan Herrera.
The bill does not apply to trapping on private lands or tribal lands. However, it allows Native Americans to continue trapping on public lands to harvest animals for “ceremonial or religious purposes.”
Rep. Derrick Lente of the Sandia Pueblo reservation raised concern during debate that if this bill passes, any further trapping issues might then be blamed on Native Americans. According to Deubel, Lente also expressed concern about the messaging from anti-trapping activists who are willing to call the practice archaic, barbaric, savage, and uncivilized, but say it’s alright for tribal members to do it.
“So, they claimed that it is 100% inappropriate and shouldn’t be happening unless you’re Native American,” Deubel said. “He’s like, ‘what is the messaging of that? Are you saying Native Americans are barbaric?’”
At this point, Deubel said, Native tribes and pueblos could present the only substantive opposition that could get Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto the bill. However, he expects her to sign it with so much support from legislative leaders. If she does, the ban will go into effect on April 1, 2022.
“I am shocked that the state of New Mexico has voted to eliminate trapping on public lands,” said Ryan Callaghan, MeatEater’s director of conservation. “This is another step in the direction of only allowing the landed, the gentry, to harvest wildlife. I did not see this coming from New Mexico and I would encourage anyone who believes in public wildlife to write the governor immediately.”
Featured image via Seth Morris