New restrictions on wildlife traps and wire snares were proposed Thursday by regulators seeking to address conflicts over trapping traditions and evolving attitudes about animal suffering.
The New Mexico Game and Fish agency outlined a proposal to ban traps and snares on select tracts of public lands outside of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Taos, along with a half-mile no-trapping buffer at officially recognized hiking trailheads.
Designed largely to reduce the hazard of traps to hikers and their dogs, the prohibition includes mountainous areas east of Albuquerque that are popular for outdoor recreation, along with swaths of national forest along mountain highways leading to ski areas near Santa Fe and Taos.
Wildlife Management Division chief Stewart Liley said the half-mile buffers would deter trapping completely in many areas because many trappers are reluctant to walk long distances for mandated daily trap checks.
Trappers would be required to attend training.
Also, design specifications for traps and snares are being suggested to reduce the risk of animals being maimed by snares and to ensure they don’t walk away with traps attached.
The proposal kicks off a monthslong rulemaking process that includes public comment. Rule changes are decided by the state Game Commission, appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Dozens of people lined up behind a microphone to express disappointment or outrage that the new slate of commissioners is not considering a broader or outright trapping ban on public lands.
“For years we’ve been hoping for change. Obviously we’re not getting it,” said Craig McClure, a 60-year-old retired Army veteran and animal welfare advocate from Albuquerque.
Trapper Tom Fisher of Tierra Amarilla warned coyotes may seek out areas where trapping is banned, with unpredictable consequences.
The agency suggestions stop far short of major proposed trapping restrictions that touched off emotionally-charged debates at the state Legislature earlier this year. A bill dubbed “Roxy’s Law,” after a dog that was strangled by a poacher’s illegal snare on a lakeside trail, would have banned traps, snares and animal poison on public land with few exceptions — but it never came to a floor vote.
Jessica Johnson of Animal Protection Voters said the proposed rule changes don’t do enough, while Chris Smith of WildEarth Guardians described the proposed trapping-ban areas as minuscule.
Independent trappers licensed by the state are frequently called on to help protect private livestock or set out to harvest and sell the pelts of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, badgers and beavers.
The Game and Fish Department says it follows a management model that prevents the commercial overexploitation of animals that are sought after for their pelts and doesn’t allow trapping that would create a long-term decline of any species.
Separately, the Game Commission is considering a decrease in the permitted number of cougars that can be killed for sport across much of the state, along with an outright ban on trapping cougars for sport.
Liley said the state’s cougar population has changed little since the 1970s, but that the current harvest limits could be unsustainably high. A vote is not expected until November.
New Mexico last year limited the number of cougars that can be harvested to 740, charging up to $290 per permit. An estimated 344 cougars were killed during the last annual season ending this spring.