Thinking about some other Western states’ version of so-called “leadership,” I am grateful for what we have here in New Mexico.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte is infamous for assaulting a journalist, attempting to undermine democracy and violating his state’s hunting regulations (at least twice). News recently broke that Gianforte illegally trapped and killed a wolf that had ventured a few miles outside of the protections of Yellowstone National Park in February. This brazen and horrific act is par for the course for a man who continues to damage Montana’s reputation.

In New Mexico, we have elected officials on both sides of the aisle who seem to genuinely care about accountability, integrity and our state’s future — and who represent their constituents with grace and humility.

One of the greatest examples is Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is decidedly unafraid to take political heat while she works to benefit the highest possible number of the people she represents. And while no one is perfect — name any New Mexico governor who has been — she deserves immense credit for looking to the horizon rather than the immediate discomfort of making tough decisions.

Our governor further set herself apart from the misguided Gianforte and his ilk by following the successes of this past legislative session.

The governor signed “Roxy’s Law” (Senate Bill 32, the Wildlife Conservation & Public Safety Act), which ends recreational and commercial trapping on public lands across New Mexico. The legislation received bipartisan support in the Legislature, and has vocal advocates from urban and rural New Mexico — including ranchers, wildlife biologists, farmers and hunters. It represents the type of progress New Mexico needs as we rebuild our economy following the impacts of COVID-19.

Gianforte unnecessarily, unethically and illegally trapping and shooting an iconic wolf is a sad reflection of Montana’s backslide into cruelty and disregard for natural resources, public lands and imperiled wildlife. Right now, four draconian wolf-killing bills are incredibly close to becoming law in Montana. There’s no question they would be signed into law by Montana’s current scofflaw, wolf-killing governor.

Meanwhile, we can be proud that New Mexico is moving forward, looking to the horizon. Our biodiversity and landscapes are gaining protection and respect. We no longer allow the blood sport of coyote-killing contests — progress made after the state has banned other types of inhumane animal “sports” like cockfighting. Public lands are seen as something worth celebrating and protecting, not giving away for the limited use of special interest groups. Our emerging industries are green and sustainable and offer a fair shake to New Mexico businesses and workers, without endangering other users of the land.

By signing Roxy’s Law, Lujan Grisham moved New Mexico forward. Our neighbors in Colorado and Arizona took this step decades ago — albeit by ballot measure; and if New Mexico had this option, our voters likely would have followed suit long ago. Still, better late than never. And it’s much better to be moving forward than it is to be moving backward like Montana appears to be doing.

Roxy’s Law is an important building block in New Mexico’s contemporary conservation legacy. So, while I feel saddened and disgusted by the war on wildlife raging in Montana, I find some solace knowing that New Mexico continues improving and is showing leadership in the West.

Chris Smith is a native of New Mexico. At WildEarth Guardians, he works to protect wildlife and the ecosystems they call home.

Read this article in the Santa Fe New Mexican »