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On Tuesday, the Los Alamos County Council will hear a “citizen petition requesting that the county pass a resolution to support banning inhumane animal trapping including strangulation snares, steel-jaw traps and other body-gripping animal traps in Los Alamos County.”
The petition was initiated by Terry and Dave Dubois and Vint and Debbi Miller in response to the Dubois’ dog Jetta being caught in a leg-hold trap on Chupadera Mesa.
Jetta was freed without any permanent injury, but the incident spurred the couples to research New Mexico’s trapping laws and other incidents of family pets being injured or killed. What they learned compelled them to introduce the resolution to council.
That particular trap was set illegally. It was adjacent to an officially marked trail (the minimum distance is 25 yards) and the trap was not marked with the trapper’s user-identification number or name and address.
However, organizations such as Trap Free New Mexico (trapfreenm.org) have recorded numerous incidents of pets being injured or killed in legally set traps. Owners are often injured trying to release their pets.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish disagrees with that assessment.
“Based on our experience, trapping related injuries to humans and pets are rare,” wrote NMDGF spokesperson Rachel Shockley, in response to inquiries from the Los Alamos Monitor. However, the NMDGF does not have a system for tracking such incidents.
State law regulating trapping (wildlife.state.nm.us/documents/documents/19_32_2%20NMAC_trapping.htm) does not require that those using public lands be warned of traps in an area.
Traps can be placed a quarter mile from an occupied dwelling, a signed roadside rest area or picnic area, a half mile from an established and maintained public campground or boat-launching area and 50 yards from any man-made livestock or wildlife catchment, pond or tank containing water.
Trappers or their agents are required to check their traps every 24 hours. However, enforcement of that and other provisions is questionable. According to information provided by Shockley, there are only 50 conservation officers statewide, with an average district of 2000 square miles. Districts may vary depending on human populations and other factors.
Illegal trapping activity penalties are misdemeanors. Penalties are at the discretion of the judge, with fines ranging from $0−$1,000 and possible incarceration periods of less than a year.
Trappers are not required to provide compensation for injuries to humans or pets.
It is illegal to remove a legally set trap or wildlife within a trap, but Shockley did not furnish information about what the penalties for are for those violations.
The 2005 New Mexico Trapping Survey, conducted by Research and Polling, Inc. for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and Animal Protection of New Mexico, found that only 41 percent of voters were aware that trapping was legal on public lands, and that 33 percent believed it was illegal.
Sixty-three percent of voters statewide said they either strongly supported (41 percent) or somewhat support (22 percent) a ban on leg-hold, snare and lethal traps on public lands. When pollsters considered demographics such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, education level, or political affiliation, no demographic favored trapping.
Respondents who supported trapping said that trapping “controls” carnivores, is legal or traditional, the land is public and trappers are part of the public, it controls disease, it provides income, they enjoy it and that trappers pay for wildlife.
Trap Free New Mexico disputes the validity of claims that trapping controls carnivores, and cites organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the World Health Organization that contend that there is no scientific evidence that trapping controls the spread of disease.
Beyond a purchasing a license ($20 for New Mexicans and $345 for out-of-state), trappers do not pay for wildlife.
The New Mexico Trappers Association (NMTA) website (nmtrappers.com) states that “Many of our families live in very remote areas. Trapping for them is a way of life and for some, trapping is a sole source of income. If we lose our right to trap in New Mexico, these families and hundreds of other trappers will lose their income and their heritage.”
The Los Alamos Monitor emailed Tom McDowell, president of the New Mexico Trappers Association, and asked if he could put us in touch with someone who relies on trapping as an important or sole source of income. The Los Alamos Monitor also asked what steps the organization might be taking to protect the public and their pets from injuries, whether more humane traps could be used and what type of self-regulation trappers take in regard to illegal trapping.
Although the email was sent Wednesday, McDowell responded that he did not discover it until just before deadline on Saturday. He offered to speak with the Los Alamos Monitor in more detail when time permitted, but provided this statement.
“I will stress this, there is nothing we/you/us can do to prevent illegal activity. Trapping is illegal in Los Alamos county and has been for many years. Therefore, it makes no difference how close to a trail the person set the trap; any set is illegal in Los Alamos county (pg. 122, 2014-2015 Hunting Rules and Info, NM. Dept Game and Fish. First paragraph, first line, Closed Areas: Los Alamos County). This incident was the result of the actions of an outlaw.”
Trapping is permitted in the northern part of the county and in an area in White Rock that includes the Red Dot/Blue Dot Trail. The proposed resolution would prohibit trapping in those areas as well, although it would not be legally enforceable.
The Los Alamos Monitor also tried to contact Thomas Salopek, vice chair of the New Mexico State Game Commission on Wednesday, with questions such as why the commission does not recommend warnings when traps are placed on public lands, whether the commission has ever discussed how to protect the public and their pets and why NMDGF is not required to educate the public about the danger.
The Los Alamos Monitor also asked why trapping licenses were priced so low, with no additional fees set for pelts taken, and why the fee for noncompliance with reporting requirements was only $8.
We also questioned why a request to prohibit traps from public lands was never debated, presented or voted on, despite being accompanied by 12,000 signatures and resolutions from 13 counties and municipalities supporting the ban, and why, after receiving that petition, a public meeting on trapping was held in the most inaccessible corner of the state, in Clayton.
Questions have also been raised about the “no bag limit” set by regulation and NMDGF, which has the authority to set limits based on “sustainable harvest.” Many citizen groups are concerned about depleting wildlife populations.
Robert L. Harrison, (P. (2010). Critique of Current Furbearer Management Practices. Albuquerque, NM 87131) found that NMDGF does not provide adequate documentation and data to support its contention that it can accurately assess sustainability from harvest reports (with an average of 68-percent compliance) and population density studies.
“…there are many deficiencies in the approach of these aspects of furbearer management. It is impossible to provide good furbearer management on a foundation of shaky science,” Harrison writes in his summary.
Legislation to ban trapping died in committee in 2011, but supporters hope to reintroduce it next year.
Resolutions similar to the one before council on Tuesday have already been passed by several New Mexico counties. Leg-hold traps are also banned in many countries including the European Union, and several states, including Arizona and Colorado.
On Tuesday (7 p.m., council chambers) the Los Alamos County council can choose to acknowledge the petition and take no further action, direct staff to research the matter and return to council with information and options or take the requested action (passing the resolution) or another action of their choosing.