Z Jacobson was hiking with her dogs, Noodles and Lulu, and a friend along a new trail off Old Buckman Road in the Santa Fe National Forest on Thanksgiving Day.
It’s ominously called Dead Dog Trail, and it leads to the top of the Caja del Rio Plateau. Jacobson’s friend had helped build it, and she was interested in touring a couple of canyons along the way said to contain rock art.
During the hike, they walked over to a cliff and were admiring the view when Jacobson heard what she described as “tremendous, horrible screaming” from her dog, whose right front paw was caught in a steel trap she said was about 30 feet from the trail. Noodles, a black-and-white border collie mix, was struggling futilely to free herself.
Noodles has since recovered, but the experience has turned Jacobson into an activist against leg-hold traps on public lands. She’s been warning friends who walk their dogs off-leash and has spoken to anti-trapping groups. She also sent out a message asking members of her local hiking group to sign Trap Free New Mexico’s petition calling on the State Game Commission to ban trapping on public lands and to better regulate traps. The group is a coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups that says trapping regulations are outdated and put citizens, pets and other species at risk.
Jacobson said she wasn’t able to free Noodles from the trap on Dead Dog Trail because she’d recently undergone shoulder surgery and couldn’t use her arm. But her friend was able to get Noodles out of the trap. Fortunately, the device didn’t have teeth, or the injuries would have been much worse, Jacobson said. Her dog limped for a few days but is now walking fine. She did, however, lose part of her ear in her fight to escape.
When Jacobson called the state Game and Fish Department to report the trap, she said, she learned that such devices are legal on public lands in New Mexico, although they must be marked with the trapper’s identification, and they cannot be placed within 25 yards of a trail or road. It is illegal to destroy them.
A spokesman for Game and Fish said an officer visited the scene and determined the trap was legally set. The officer also said the trap was 400 yards from the nearest maintained trail, not as close as Jacobson estimated.
“I’m in shock, horrified about the whole thing,” Jacobson said.
Many people have responded to her effort to ban trapping, vowing to sign Trap Free New Mexico’s petition. Kay Nease, one hiking club member who supports Jacobson’s movement, said, “This is very disturbing that traps are anywhere and — even worse — close to hiking trails.”
Efforts to ban trapping on public lands in the 2013 and 2015 sessions of the Legislature failed. The bills never even got out of their first committee. And in recent years, the State Game Commission actually has expanded trapping opportunities in New Mexico.
In 2011, the commission approved a recommendation from wildlife managers to end a trapping ban in southwestern New Mexico, where federal officials have reintroduced the Mexican gray wolf, an endangered subspecies. And starting next April, the state will begin allowing random trapping of cougars for sport across 70 percent of New Mexico, including 9 million acres of state trust land.
Jessica Johnson of Animal Protection Voters of New Mexico said this was done despite overwhelming opposition to trapping among New Mexicans. A poll of more than 1,000 voters conducted by Remington Research Group prior to the new cougar rule found that 69 percent of registered voters oppose the use of traps — on both public and private land.
Jacobson returned recently to Dead Dog Trail to look for the trap. She and her friend had piled stones on top of it before leaving on Thanksgiving Day. When she got there, she found the stones had been removed and the trap reset. She stuck her hiking pole in it, she said, and “it snapped so hard, I realized what my poor dog had gone through.”
Jacobson said she thinks the trapper was trying to snare coyotes for their pelts. The trap was set along what looked to her like an animal trail. Part of the goal of Trap Free New Mexico is to get protected status for coyotes and skunks or to make them subject to animal cruelty laws.
Opponents to leg-hold traps say that between two and 10 nontargeted animals are trapped for every targeted animal that is captured. A 2011 investigation in New Mexico by a group called Born Free USA found that cougar cubs and black bears were some of the animals illegally caught in the traps.
Activists don’t agree with claims by proponents of trapping that the practice keeps wildlife populations balanced and controls disease, and they are concerned that many people are injured trying to release a trapped animal.
John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, said, “We are realistic. We are in this for the long haul. But we are also hopeful knowing that most people in New Mexico find this outrageous.”
Horning said Colorado and Arizona already ban trapping on public land, and so does Los Alamos County. New Mexico is also an outlier in that its trapping season is one of the longest in the West. And trappers are not even required to post signs on public lands to inform people where the traps are set, he said.
Last season, 1,768 licenses ($20 each for state residents) were issued by the state to trap fur-bearing animals, a long tradition in New Mexico. According to the Game and Fish Department, about 5,000 individual fur-bearers were harvested. There is no mandatory reporting requirement for unprotected fur-bearing species such as coyotes.
“I want to be active in trying to stop this,” Jacobson said. “We’re not able to stop trappers. But we shouldn’t be trapping on public land. That’s just wrong.”
Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.