The trapper accused of killing Roxy, a Northern New Mexico cattle dog who was strangled to death in a snare near Santa Cruz Lake, recently was found not guilty. The verdict was immensely disappointing. It feels like justice slipped through the cracks, alongside the case evidence that was lost.
But the way the trial and verdict has been framed is a disservice to the effort to ban cruel traps, snares and poisons across New Mexico’s public lands.
Several media outlets described Roxy’s tragic death as the impetus for passage of the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, which came to be called “Roxy’s Law.” It is true that Roxy became emblematic of the indiscriminate killing and danger that traps pose on public lands. However, the effort to ban traps from New Mexico public lands had been in the making for years before Roxy was killed.
It was the outcome of tens of thousands of New Mexicans coming to terms with the problems inherent with trapping and working hard to create a new paradigm for wildlife and hikers, hunters, campers and other users of public lands in the Land of Enchantment.
Taking Marty Cordova’s claim that he is a “scapegoat” at face value disregards all of the other pets who have been killed or injured in traps in New Mexico: Ophie, Murphy, Buster, Maxi, Strawberry, Ceniza, Tooli, Nelli, Cruzer, Ivy, Mahlia, Jessie, Joe, Sabina, Kutchin, Jetta, Zero, Toby, Pepper, Bo, Lulu, Ben Funbeast, Sammy, Jaky, Wiley, Beau, (another) Roxy, Ted, Bailey, Pearl, Noodles, Kekoa, Fibel, Ranger, Hopi, Jesse, Nina, Griz, Robin, Greta, Honey and many others unnamed or unknown.
Doing so also fails to account for at least 150,000 native animals that have been killed by trappers since 2008.
Furthermore, Cordova’s assertion — “Trapping is not bad; it’s a means of conservation, just like hunting deer or fishing” — is false. Trapping is not conservation. It is not like hunting deer or fishing. Trapping is cruel, dangerous and indiscriminate. It drains fragile ecosystems of the native species that keep things in balance. It turns wildlife into a commodity to be slaughtered, skinned, tanned and sold. It is deeply unpopular — New Mexicans oppose trapping by a wide margin.
Trapping was not on trial in the case surrounding Roxy’s death. Cordova was. And that seems to have been lost in the coverage. Cordova got his day in court, as is his right. But he was also given a platform from which to espouse the virtues of trapping and make it seem as though him being found not guilty — due at least in part to evidence being lost and photographs being deleted — means that trapping is redeemed.
The New Mexico lawmakers who decided earlier this year to end cruel trapping and poisoning of wildlife on public lands did so after hearing from activists (including sportsmen), scientists and trapping victims for well over a decade. The Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act will go into effect in April. It will make the outdoors safer and more accessible to visitors, prevent native animals from suffering and dying from these devices on approximately 32 million acres of public lands, and bring New Mexico’s wildlife policies closer into alignment with the best available science and modern ethics of coexistence.
New Mexico citizens and lawmakers have chosen to relegate public lands trapping and poisoning to the history books for myriad good and valid reasons. Roxy is one of those reasons, and her death became a rallying cry for the cause. Cordova’s not guilty verdict does not undo the progress we’ve made.
Chris Smith is the Southwest Wildlife Advocate for WildEarth Guardians.