Dear Mr. McCausland,
Thank you so much for shining some light on trapping in the US and in particular in New Mexico in your recent article. I noticed that you embedded in it a video of how to remove a dog from a trap produced by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. As it happens, my own dog was caught in a leg-hold trap here in New Mexico on National Forest Land a year ago. It was a terrifying and brutal experience nothing like the serene narrator of the video would imply. It left my dog and me both injured. I know how to open a trap from my volunteering with TrapFree New Mexico and was able to get her out of the trap quickly. I had been photographing birds only moments before and had the presence of mind once I realized what was happening to push the record button on my camera. The result is video that is nothing but chaos and audio that is painfully clear; my dog screaming and me frantically trying to free her. Traps are not the humane and benign devices trappers would have you believe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8aq5H8aSkA&feature=youtu.be
Also, in the last two months alone in New Mexico, four highly endangered Mexican Wolves have been caught in traps set for something else. Only one was unharmed. One had a puncture wound that developed into a limp and caused officials to set out a food cache for the animal, one suffered a full leg amputation and one died; not a great track record for devices that are supposed to be ‘humane’. This year follows a string of years in which the struggling population of wolves has suffered accidental trapping with injuries, amputations and death.
As for being scientific, having done the document requests, New Mexico Game and Fish cannot claim any scientific wildlife management justification for recreational and commercial trapping. They do not have population studies for ‘furbearers’ like bobcats, gray foxes, badgers, or ringtails. There are no management plans for any of them. And yet there are no bag limits on any furbearing species, no quotas, and no zones that take into account different habitat types. Trappers don’t have to tell anyone where traps are or how many traps they have set. They do have to report the number of ‘furbearers’ they catch but incidental captures, which we know can include bears, javelina, mountain lions (especially kittens), birds like ravens, roadrunners, quail and raptors, go un-documented.
We at www.TrapFreeNM.org, a coalition of conservation and animal protection organizations, do not believe trapping for commerce and recreation is necessary. 10% of the land area in NM is already off limits to trappers including National parks and Monuments, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, State parks and even land owned by the NM State Game Commission. This latter is set aside for hunters. If trapping were so essential, the State Game Commission would be the first to allow it. Moreover, what happens on these lands is that the population of carnivores like coyotes stabilize. They limit their own density by defending territory and keeping out interlopers. They do not grow to the sky but remain stable over time if left alone. Instead, trapping can disrupt the stability and social structure that are the true controls of population. Studies have shown that coyotes, which are so unjustly maligned, primarily eat rodents, rabbits and, depending on the season, insects, carrion and wild fruit like juniper berries. In their role in nature, they are important ecosystem managers. A small percentage can turn to livestock, but there are measures that ranchers can take that are effective in preventing, minimizing or even stopping loss to predation. In our neighboring states of AZ and CO where traps have been significantly reined in, both sheep and cattle ranches still operate successfully.
A few years before my dog was trapped, I was with a group of hikers and we found a trapped coyote whose leg was mutilated by the trap. She was in the process of self amputation. When we returned with a game warden, she had completed the job to escape to an uncertain fate.
Combined with having my dog caught, from what I have seen, trapping is neither selective, humane, necessary or compatible with public land use. I see it as exploitative, cruel and contrary to conservation. As with other contentious issues from vaccines to climate change, there is scientific evidence, opinion, and propaganda. Sorting them out is challenging but essential for an informed discussion.
Mary Katherine Ray
in the far outback of Socorro county, NM