Mary Katherine Ray helped outlaw traps in her state
January 1, 2023
A few years after moving to a remote area of southern New Mexico, I saw a Sierra Club ad in the local paper. I was a longtime member and thought, “That’s amazing that a Sierra Club group is forming in this rural area!” I joined it and made new friends, but it wasn’t until 2003 that I really became active as a leader.
That year, I was hiking on a winter morning on public land near my home with my two dogs. Suddenly, one of the dogs started pulling on his leash. At the spot he wanted to investigate, there was a hidden steel-jaw trap. It leapt out of the sand when I inadvertently triggered it and slammed shut on air. The dogs and I weren’t hurt, but that moment cleaved my life in two: before trapping and after trapping.
The injustice—that a trapper could legally put me in this dangerous situation and harm my dog—was unconscionable. I shared my story with a Sierra Club friend and mentor when I got home. She said that she had also recently run into a trap on an outing she was leading: A participant’s dog had gotten caught, and it ruined the entire excursion. We were furious. Placing people in harm’s way was wrong, to say nothing of subjecting wildlife to this cruelty. That’s when I began to actively advocate for a trapping ban on public lands.
We started with the New Mexico Game Commission. After several years of us trying—organizing and generating more opposition to traps—they remained unmoved. We felt ridiculed and belittled. It didn’t matter that every year more people submitted comments opposing traps on public land—100, 1,000, then 12,000 written comments didn’t make a difference. While leading an outing myself in 2011, our group came upon a coyote struggling and badly injured in a trap. I vowed to use her picture to publicize the brutality of trapping. She is memorialized as the logo of TrapFreeNM.org, the coalition of conservation and animal protection groups I helped bring together. I never could have done this work alone.
By 2013, our coalition realized that the game commission would not help us, and we needed the legislature to change the law. The resulting bill’s first sponsor was a legislator representing a tourist destination where people enjoy recreating on public lands and where a constituent not only had two dogs that got caught in traps but was also injured herself.
The bill didn’t pass when it was first introduced, but we kept at it. Our state legislature meets only every other year to consider nonbudgetary bills. With every iteration, more people, including legislators, became aware of the injustice of trapping.
Each session brought more public support, more media coverage, and more yes votes. In 2021, the bill passed the state senate floor. We knew it would be close in the house of representatives. After several hours of debate on the house floor, the tally was tied. A bill does not pass on a tie vote. The next two years and all the work ahead flashed before my eyes. But at the last moment, another yes vote was cast by a legislator. One of their constituents had a dog who was killed by a snare in 2018. The bill became known as Roxy’s Law in the dog’s memory. The law went to the governor’s desk. With her signature, 17 years after I started my advocacy, traps and poisons were finally outlawed on New Mexico public lands.
It’s unbelievable that in the 21st century, the archaic and cruel practice of trapping is still allowed. Our opponents ignored us, then laughed at us, then fought us. But finally we, the public, and wildlife won.
Read this article at Sierra