Traps, snares and poisons are lethal devices that have inflicted serious harm on people, pets and wildlife across the state for a very long time. But, fortunately, times are changing. The Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, also known as “Roxy’s Law” – named after a 2018 trap victim – will ban the use of cruel, indiscriminate traps, snares and poisons on New Mexico public lands, effective April 1.

It was the passionate work of the TrapFree New Mexico coalition, the genuine leadership of state legislators, the courageous testimony of trap victims from around the state and, ultimately, the governor’s signature that turned this tragedy – and countless others like it – into a positive outcome for New Mexico. Roxy’s Law will make public lands safer for everyone.

It is likely that millions of animals in New Mexico have been tortured, maimed and killed by cruel, limb-crushing traps and strangulation snares. This indiscriminate slaughter continued for so long because one state agency – the Department of Game and Fish – kept it going despite massive, clearly stated opposition. This self-serving department operates with state authority, but without any real accountability to the constituents it is supposed to serve, the people of New Mexico. The behavior of the Game Department illustrates a basic failure of governance in our state.

With its relentless “hunting is conservation” propaganda, the Game Department essentially operates New Mexico as a pay-to-kill game farm, selling the state’s wildlife as “products” on its website. Let’s be clear: killing wildlife is not conserving wildlife. This is the same state agency that did nothing to stop the obscene coyote-killing contests. The state Legislature had to step in and stop that slaughter.

The Game Commission that ostensibly oversees the Game Department has positions for seven commissioners, only one of whom represents conservation interests. Commissioners are appointed by the governor, but are not required to have any training or expertise in wildlife, biological sciences or public trust duties, and can be removed at any time without cause. This is a purely political exercise that is subject to abuse. Wildlife management should never be politicized.

Wildlife is a public trust in which all New Mexicans have a legitimate interest, not just those who hunt and fish. But the 95% of New Mexicans who do not hunt or fish are systematically excluded from state wildlife policy. This arrangement is profoundly anti-democratic and lacks basic legitimacy.

Basic components of good governance include accountability, inclusivity, responsiveness and transparency. New Mexico state wildlife management lacks all four. The Game Department’s backward policies are badly out of step with mainstream society and show little sign of improving. There is no reason we should allow any state agency to pursue an agenda that is clearly at odds with what most New Mexicans want for the state’s wildlife: respectful coexistence. Without deep reform and repurposing of state wildlife management, we can and should expect the abuse to continue.

Banning traps, snares and poisons on public lands is a victory for basic decency in our relationship with each other and what remains of our wildlife. There is no reason we should tolerate the cruel, indiscriminate killing of our companion animals or wildlife. There is no excuse for repeating the mistakes and abuses of the past, no matter how longstanding.

Read this piece in the Albuquerque Journal »