ALBUQUERQUE — Trappers now have to complete an education course and new restrictions will be imposed on setting wildlife traps and snares around designated trailheads and on select tracts of public lands in New Mexico under a measure adopted Friday by the State Game Commission.
State wildlife managers suggested they tried to strike a balance, but trappers argued the changes will be burdensome, requiring them in some instances to walk a mile round trip to set a trap.
Environmentalists also were displeased with the decision, calling the practice inhumane and indiscriminate. They had pushed for the commission to end trapping altogether, saying pets and endangered species such as the Mexican gray wolf have been inadvertently caught.
Friday was the first time the State Game Commission, charged with overseeing hunting and fishing regulations and managing wildlife across New Mexico, had met following a shakeup over a dispute on a rule limiting public access to rivers and streams that flow through private property.
Former Game Commission Chairwoman Joanna Prukop ran afoul of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the fall when she and other commissioners voted to reconsider the contested rule.
The commission under Prukop’s leadership had the support of sportsmen groups, conservationists and members of Congress when it voted in November to begin sorting out the quagmire. However, the Governor’s Office told Prukop she would not be reappointed when her term expired at the end of 2019.
Sharon Salazar Hickey was tapped by the governor this week to replace Prukop.
Hickey, a program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was elected chairwoman of the commission Friday.
Given the shakeup, it’s unclear how soon the commission could began moving again on the stream access issue.
The new trapping prohibitions, designed largely to reduce the hazard of traps to hikers and their dogs, include mountainous areas east of Albuquerque, along with swaths of national forest along mountain highways leading to ski areas near Santa Fe and Taos. In the southern part of the state, it includes the eastern portion of the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Trapping and snaring triggered emotionally charged debates during last year’s legislative session. A bill dubbed “Roxy’s Law” after a dog that was strangled by a poacher’s illegal snare on a trail near Santa Cruz Lake would have banned traps, snares and animal poison on public land with few exceptions. It never came to a floor vote.
Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico and Animal Protection Voters, said until the Legislature acts, “our outdoor recreation, tourism industries and the well-being of New Mexico’s families and ecosystems remain under threat by trapping on public lands.”
The state doesn’t allow trapping that would create a long-term decline of any species and the types, sizes and designs of traps are limited. There also are requirements for the frequency in which traps must be checked.
Trappers told the State Game Commission on Friday that they’re frequently called on to help protect private livestock from coyotes or other predators and that harvesting the pelts of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, badgers and beavers is part of their rural heritage.
Commissioner Jimmy Bates, who voted against the changes, said trappers don’t view the practice as recreation or sport.
“They see it as a means of species population management, disease control, heritage, a way of life, and yes it’s a means of income,” he said.
“I understand they’re a minority but we live in the United States of America, a country which prides itself on defending rights of minorities.”
Commissioner Jeremy Vesbach described the issue as a rural-urban divide. He said he looked through thousands of public comments received by the commission and many mentioned the need to protect domestic animals.
Vesbach said he believes closing high-traffic areas to trapping and providing trapper education will help reduce illegal trapping and conflicts with other public land users.