BY MICHELLE LUTE, PhD
As a scientist advocating for evidence-based decision-making, I’m doing everything I can to promote Roxy’s Law, Senate Bill 32, to ban public lands trapping, snaring and poisoning in New Mexico.
In my testimony and prior opinion pieces, I address the science and value-based systems that inform debate on these lethal tools. While those points seem to resonate with some, recent debate from legislators centers not on science but on the traditions of farming and ranching.
So never mind science for a moment. I’d like to talk about traps, snares and poisons wearing my farmer hat. I am the daughter of three generations of farmers. I think three generations is enough time to inform useful thoughts on land stewardship.
My great-grandfather, grandfather, father, their wives, children and hired help never had to employ a trap, snare or poison in their livelihood of raising livestock and crops. We had more issues with deer in fields or rodents in grain bins than coyotes even looking at our cows or horses. Coyotes were welcomed because they checked rodent populations and were fun to watch.
During state Senate floor debate, Sen. Cliff Pirtle portrayed vulnerable images of cute baby cows. I agree, they sure are cute, as are baby pigs, chickens, horses and all the young ‘uns of the pastoral lot. Those same baby cows Pirtle so vividly depicted are some of my fondest childhood memories. But Pirtle also vividly described gory scenes of predation by wild canids. Well, nothing like that happened on my family’s farm (farming can be gory thanks to humans).
We weren’t spared those gory scenes of nature red in tooth and claw because we were lucky in some way. We didn’t experience conflict with nature because we understood nature and practiced commonsense husbandry. In nature, babies are vulnerable. So calves (and colts, fillies, piglets) were welcomed into the world close to human presence and shelters. We lost fewer mothers to birthing complications that way.
We also avoided conflict with nature by not asking for conflict in the form of lethal control. This is where I must put my science hat back on and point out that studies increasingly support my family’s experience. Lethal control begets chaos in the social dynamics of coyotes and other predators. It can also increase the chances that breeding adults get killed before they teach their young to properly hunt. If you’re not taught how to get healthy food, you end up at the easiest fast-food joint. Similarly, juveniles that aren’t taught to hunt native prey might turn to an atypical food source like an easier (future) burger, however cute it may be.
I understand my family’s operation isn’t that of our state’s current ranchers. I sympathize with drought conditions making it hard to graze on manageable acreage. I understand vagaries of beef prices and globalization creating competitive markets in Brazil. It’s hard to keep up and make a living. But no leg-hold trap is going to fix it.
Let’s talk about helping ranchers and farmers make a living and steward our Land of Enchantment with forward-thinking policies. Let’s address the challenges of drought, climate change, pandemics and globalization. But let’s not confuse ourselves into thinking we can trap, snare and poison our way into a better future.
Michelle Lute is the National Carnivore Conservation Manager of Project Coyote, holds a doctorate in wildlife management and lives in Santa Fe.