Activist calls for removal of leg-hold traps on public lands

Z Jacobson of Santa Fe walks Friday with her dogsNoodles on Dead Dog Trail off Old Buckman Road, where Noodles got caught in a trap. The experience has turned Jacobson into an activist, with a goal of banning leg-hold traps on public lands. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

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 The group is a coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups that says trapping regulations are outdated and put citizens, pets and other species at risk.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

Show what you're thinking about this story

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(25) comments

Mike Miller

Trappers and hunters pay the fees for hikers to be able use public trust lands.

Cate Moses

Trapping on public lands--or anywhere--is just one more lead weight dragging NM down to the bottom of every list. Trapping benefits no one but a few mostly out-of-state sadists who reap huge profits. It causes unthinkable harm to many--including our native wildlife who have a hard enough time surviving as it is, and children unlucky enough to get caught in a trap. We need to hold our legislators accountable until they stop it.

maida henderson

Follow the money. Trappers trap our wildlife for their fur which are then sold to foreign markets. Against their will, New Mexicans are sacrificing our wildlife for someone's commercial gain. Perhaps an idea would be to make the export of New Mexican wildlife pelts illegal.

Scott Slocum

The problem is that trapping is incompatible with other forms of outdoor recreation. What's the best and most achievable way to solve it? At least, there should be ample open space on public land where people can go with their dogs, safe from traps. That would leave room for other open spaces, known by all to be off-limits to dogs.

Carolyn DM

Only sick, sick people would support leg traps. I suppose it's another NM tradition kinda like cock fighting, well screw your barbaric traditions. Move on with the times.

Alasdair Lindsay

I signed the trap free petition a week ago as I find having these traps on public land is unbelievably irresponsible and archaic. Traps are cruel and induce needless suffering. Governor Martinez, you and New Mexico should be better than this.

Charles Fox

Traps indiscriminately maim and kill untold thousands of wild and domestic animals every year in New Mexico. Every year we see more victims and more destruction. It's simple: traps are incompatible with any other use of public lands.

Trapping and killing animals is a profoundly abusive activity. Traps inflict extreme cruelty, miserable deaths, and massive loss of life. These baited, hidden killing machines utterly destroy the balance of predators and prey and inflict ecological devastation on our wild lands.

Governor Martinez, basic human decency demands that traps are removed from our public lands. There is no excuse for allowing this abuse to continue.

K. Michael

Thanks to the Santa Fe New Mexican for publishing this article, and thanks to Trap Free New Mexico and other groups for their efforts to ban barbaric leg-hold traps. It's appalling that these cruel, indiscriminate devices remain legal, in spite of their danger to hikers and their companion animals. Arizona and Colorado have banned traps on public lands through citizen initiatives. New Mexico does not have a public initiative process, so it is dependent solely on legislators to pass laws on behalf of their constituents. Unfortunately some lawmakers are more loyal to special interests that finance their campaigns than to voters.

So what can citizens do to get dangerous, cruel leg-hold traps off of public lands? Get involved and support the efforts of Trap Free New Mexico. Also, voters need to hold lawmakers accountable. The most important action citizens can take is to register and vote in elections. Remember that all NM legislators are running for re-election in 2016. You can find out how your legislators voted on animal related bills by checking Animal Protection Voters scorecards at

Amie Selecman

It's time for the laws to be changed!! First of all, where they were hiking is in a developed area. Grant it, the houses are right next to each other, but the area is full of people and dogs. These traps were NOT legally set and I don't see any signs of Fish & Wildlife doing anything to prevent these trappers from setting their inhumane traps. Were the traps owners information on the trap? We all know they were set to close to human and pet traffic. A child could have easily been a victim. This area should be banned from traps. 25 yards from a hiking trail is too close and should be changed to 150 yards! I'm against trapping 100%. It's inhumane and just about impossible - at least for NM Fish & Game - to monitor, or they just choose not to monitor - I'm sure that would be too much work for them.

JC Corcoran

Sign the Trap Free New Mexico Petition online NOW:

Amie Selecman

I have been signing this petition, writing to politicians, etc. It seems that this topic isn't worth their time -until one of their pets or child gets hurt or killed. Seems the NM way - do nothing until someone gets killed. [sad]

JC Corcoran

It is so hard to believe that leg-hold traps are still legal, particularly on public land. This is just more proof that Game Commission is run by industry and is a disgrace to New Mexico.

Al Rodriguez

Trapping is barbaric and indiscriminate. I wonder how this would be treated if the ranchers "working" cow dog or their cow got caught in it, or if the coyote chasing hound group that runs out there had their dogs snared. If hikers can't have a dog off leash, then neither can hunters with hunting dogs and ranchers and their working dogs. Land mines aren't legal and traps are dangerous and deadly too. They are safety hazards on our public lands. As the stewards of wildlife, Game and Fish should ban these indiscriminate killers.

Martin Garcia

Based on this activists statement. She interfered with this persons rights to trap granted by New Mexico game and fish. She stated that on two separate times she intentionally messed with the trap. According to Game and Fish rules she should be fined for interfering with the hunters rights. Maybe she should be fined.

Martin Garcia

Take a close look at number 3. Below is a copy of game and fish rules on harassment of hunters.

New Mexico Law (Chapter 17-2-7.1, NMSA 1978) prohibits “hunter harassment” or interfering with another who is lawfully hunting, trapping or fishing in an area where those activities are permitted. The first offense is a petty misdemeanor, the second a misdemeanor.

If a person committing interference possesses a license, certificate or permit issued to him/her by the New Mexico State Game Commission, the license, certificate or permit will be subject to revocation.

Interference means:

1. Intentionally locating one’s person where human presence may affect the behavior of a game animal, bird or fish, where human presence may interfere with the taking or killing of a game animal, bird or fish, and/or where human presence may interfere with another who is lawfully hunting, trapping or fishing.
2. Intentionally creating a visual, auditory, olfactory or physical stimulus to affect the behavior of a game animal, bird or fish and interfere with another who is lawfully hunting, fishing or trapping.
3. Intentionally altering, removing or affecting the placement or condition of personal property used for taking a game animal, bird or fish.

Al Rodriguez

By Game and Fish's own definition, coyotes are a nongame species so these rules don't apply.

Martin Garcia

They do if you have to get a permit to set a trap.

Carolyn DM

Oh, screw "hunter harassment". How about a little compassion for innocent animals.

Amie Selecman

These traps were illegally set. 25 yards from a hiking trail that has been formally designated by an agency on a map;
25 yards from the shoulder of any public road annually maintained with public funds;
50 yards from a livestock/wildlife watering area;
One-half mile from a dwelling, public campground, or rest, picnic, or boat-launching area; and State law requires trappers to check traps every 24 hours by the trapper or a representative of the trapper.
Traps must be marked either with the trapper's name and address, or a trapper ID number (provided free by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish [NMDGF]). The state does not require that trappers share locations of their traps with state game wardens, land management authorities, or the public.
Trappers are not required to post warning signs on public lands so that people can protect their children and companion animals.
Coyotes and skunks may be trapped year-round without a license.
Trapping other wildlife requires a $20 license from NMDGF, with seasons that vary depending on species.

Martin Garcia

I guess you missed the part in the article that states a game and fish officer went out to inspect the trap that was actually 400 yards from any maintained trail. Should we assume the officer is lying or the complainant? I would side with the officers investigation versus the hearsay of an anti hunting advocate. Good luck changing the the laws on this. There are way more pro-hunting advocates in NM than anti-hunting advocates.

James Baca

I banned trapping on State Lands while serving as Land Commissioner. It is a barbaric practice and should not be allowed on any trust lands or federal public lands. This is a result of the good ole boy attitude in state government and a sleeping bureaucracy in the federal government. We need a new Game Commission appointed by a new Governor. And we need a 21st century Land Commissioner instead of a good ole boy from cow country.

Cate Moses

Thank you, Mr. Baca,

Linda Seebantz

I stand with Z Jacobson, Trap Free New Mexico and all the groups and individuals who are trying to bring closure to this antiquated, barbaric and unnecessary practice of trapping.Three of my dogs have been caught in leg hold traps and one only needs to hear the horror of a screaming animal to know this is simply not right. These are sentient beings--coyotes, bears, cougars, skunks, bobcats. How many are left to suffer for days? This is not about walking our dogs on leashes.This is about evolving as humans to the realization that all beings have a purpose and our own precious humanity is sabotaged when we allow these barbaric acts. We are stewards of this beautiful land and all its inhabitants, not tyrants.

Kathy Howard

Many dog owners in Santa Fe refuse to lease their dogs, breaking the law. They complain when they are given a ticket by the Forest Service with a $250 fine. I have been harassed more than once by two unleashed dogs who decided to get into a scuffle or fight on the trail where I was hiking. I have quit hiking with one friend because she refuses to respect the rules. Her unleashed dog is more important than the comfort of her friends. Please dog owners, respect the rights of others and follow the rules.

Amie Selecman

There are MANY places where leashes are not required for hiking your dog and the NM trap rules still must apply - Coyotes in pickup truck
The killing of coyotes is completely unregulated in New Mexico. These native canines can be legally killed year-round in unlimited numbers.
Trapping is allowed on public lands (state, National Forest, or Bureau of Land Management lands) and is restricted by location only in the following ways:

25 yards from a hiking trail that has been formally designated by an agency on a map;
25 yards from the shoulder of any public road annually maintained with public funds;
50 yards from a livestock/wildlife watering area;
One-half mile from a dwelling, public campground, or rest, picnic, or boat-launching area; and
Only a few places are off limits to trappers, including: in Los Alamos County, Rio Grande Recreation Area in Taos County, Valle Vidal Unit of the Carson National Forest, McGregor Military Range, or Valles Caldera National Preserve
State law requires trappers to check traps every 24 hours by the trapper or a representative of the trapper.
Traps must be marked either with the trapper's name and address, or a trapper ID number (provided free by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish [NMDGF]). The state does not require that trappers share locations of their traps with state game wardens, land management authorities, or the public.
Trappers are not required to post warning signs on public lands so that people can protect their children and companion animals. These traps were set illegally!

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.