Few reasons for trapping
By Teresa Seamster
Trappers kill thousands of our state’s wild animals each year for recreation and profit. According to last season’s Furbearer Harvest report from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, over a thousand of the following species were killed in traps set throughout New Mexico: gray foxes (1,694), bobcats (1,715), and coyotes (4,609). But these numbers are a fraction of the actual total, which is unknown.
For all species but the bobcat, numbers are based on trapper responses to a mandatory harvest survey. In 2009-2010, 1,921 licenses were sold to trappers, but only 551 responded to the survey, so our knowledge of animals killed through trapping is incomplete and inadequate.
The closer you look at trapping in our state, whether as a form of outdoor recreation, industry or private source of revenue, the more flawed it appears.
First, traps that have been banned for decades in neighboring states, such as steel-jaw leghold traps, strangulation snares, and Conibears, are legal in New Mexico—and the most widely used types of traps.
Second, traps kill indiscriminately. The numbers of non-target species that get trapped and killed is undocumented, but reports from trappers in the Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly indicate that it runs into millions of animals annually across the U.S. One trapper interviewed in AWI Quarterly said he had caught 28 cats and “several” dogs in one year. He did not kill the dogs, but did kill 26 of the cats since cats struggle so violently that their owners would be upset enough, if the animal made it home, to report its injuries to the local newspaper. As the trapper said, such reports would be “bad publicity for trappers.”
Third, trappers in New Mexico can legally place an unlimited number of traps on public land as near as 25 yards from public roads and trails, a half-mile from picnic areas and rest stops, and 1/4 mile from dwellings with no warning notices required. Traps are hidden under dirt and leaves and routinely catch pets, birds and protected species.
Fourth, animals that are caught in traps linger for hours or days and are eventually clubbed to death or crushed by the trapper who repeatedly kneels on or stomps the animal until it dies.
The overseas fur market has grown rapidly in recent years, thus counteracting the slump that occurred in the 1980s, when American animal-rights groups pointed out several drawbacks to the fur trade. They highlighted the fact that the fur trade violates animal cruelty laws, exposes many threatened and endangered species to further risk, and is offensive to the majority of the U.S. population. Due to the overseas demand for exotic fur, trappers are taking advantage of New Mexico’s policy of no bag limits on furbearer species, and can clean out an entire locale in weeks. For this wholesale removal of wildlife, the state receives a $20 trapping license.
A 2005 Trapping Survey by Research & Polling reported that 63% supported a ban on leghold, snare and lethal traps on public lands in the state and 33% thought trapping was illegal. Statistics from U.S. Fish & Wildlife show nearly 1 million New Mexicans participated in wildlife recreation activities in 2006 with 787,000 of them classified as “wildlife watchers” and the rest as anglers and hunters.
Is trapping like hunting? No. A hunter’s first rule is “be sure of your target.” Traps don’t discriminate between target and non-target species. Inadvertently trapped animals include dogs, cats, birds, black bears, coati, deer, javelinas, mountain lions and waterfowl. Some are protected, but when they are trapped there are no reports and no penalties.
Wildlife is one of the leading draws for tourism in our state. 2004 statistics show that there were 767 licensed trappers in New Mexico who generated $671,000 in revenue for the state. The same year, 449,000 residents and 387,000 tourists participated in wildlife-watching and generated $931 million in revenue.
Groups such as the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians and Animal Protection of New Mexico, along with concerned citizens, have joined forces in a coalition called Trap Free New Mexico. Our goal is to bring New Mexico in line with the better monitoring and management practices of our neighboring states and to ban all current forms of inhumane trapping on our state public lands.
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