Trap Free New Mexico..The Ugly Truth Behind Trapping
July 22, 2011
“I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. She volunteers with the Sierra Club and works with a coalition of conservation groups including the Sierra Club, Wild Earth Guardians, and Animal Protection of New Mexico for TrapFreeNM.”
TrapFreeNM is a coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups who oppose the cruel, damaging, and dangerous practice of trapping in New Mexico. Under-regulated and outdated, traps put citizens, pets, and non-target species at risk, including the endangered Mexican gray wolf. We seek to ban traps on public lands in New Mexico for the sake of public safety and New Mexico’s native wildlife.
WW: How did you become involved with the trapping issues in New Mexico?
MK: I will tell you I started in late 2003 when on my birthday I nearly stepped in a leg hold trap. I was with my dogs on a leash, and trappers always complain,”Well, if your dog was on a leash we wouldn’t have this problem..” Well, not so. The lure attractant was so strong we were all just pulled over to where this trap was. It was hidden under leaves, under a low hanging juniper branch, and I didn’t know what the dogs were so interested in. Just by luck I happened to be there and where I placed my foot I kicked the trap and it slammed …Empty! I nearly walked away and I thought,” Well, man that was close! So I actually turned around and went back and decided to take a moment and open this trap. I’m thinking in my mind if it happened again maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Then I discovered I couldn’t open this trap. I’m not big enough or strong enough, and even standing on the springs, they just wouldn’t go down. Had my dogs been caught, the ground was frozen that day and the trap chain was attached to a stake in the ground that I couldn’t have gotten out. And it was at that moment, that horrible moment..I was an hour and a half from my car.
WW: And what if you had stepped in it?
MK: Yes, and if the dog had gotten in, which would have been the most likely scenario…I shudder to think about it. So that started, and I was not an active member of the Sierra Club before that, so I started to organize our Chapter. I knew very little about activism at that point, and so we wrote letters and did our best in my small kind of way out here in the middle of nowhere. At that point our Game Department was reviewing the reviews rules every two years, so the next two years rolled around again and we decided to try it again. It grew a little bit and the next two years rolled around and they did not review it and we can’t figure out why. That’s about the time I asked WildEarth Guardians to jump on board, and they and Animal Protection of New Mexico both did. We wrote a letter asking them (Department of Game and Fish) if they would open up the Rules of for Review. We last did that in 2009, and it took until December, 2010 for them to actually do it. That’s where we are now. Those rules have been opened for review and are going to be voted on Thursday (June 21, 2011).
WW: Well this is quite the timely interview in that case isn’t it?
MK: Yes, and we have generated over 7,000 comments supporting banning traps. It was enough that the Department felt compelled, I guess by state law, that they had to put up an alternative to reflect our comments. They did, and called it “The citizens alternative to prohibit trapping on public lands.” But they have made it very clear that they do not support this alternative. I am taken back by just how much the Department advocates for trappers and ignores everyone else.
WW: There are endangered species, most notably the critically endangered Mexican Gray Wolf in the wild there, and this really seems like reckless wildlife management when you have traps on public lands.
MK: What they are saying about wolves: We know that twelve Mexican wolves have been accidentally trapped in traps set for other animals. Of those, six were injured, and two lost their legs. Only one of those that lost a leg is still alive. The other wolf disappeared. He was a lone wolf, and was placed back into the wild and presumed dead within months. The other one is the alpha male of the famous Middle Fork Pack and his mate is also three legged. We’re not sure if the female lost her leg in a trap or not. They have each other and managed to produce puppies, so they are a pack. They roam in an area near the Adobe Ranch which has much of its livestock grazing public lands. When SOP 13 was in place, a wolf pack would show up and then be killed. Since SOP 13 was repealed, that has not been happening.
WW: It seems like it was only yesterday when the trapping ban under former Governor Richardson was adopted and put into place..
MK: The trapping ban that was put in place last winter by Governor Richardson was just on public lands and in the wolf recovery area, and that was specifically to protect wolves. That was supposed to last a minimum of six months. The Department of Game and Fish received part of Richardson’s executive order to determine what traps might pose minimal risk to wolves that could be reinstated, and NM Game and Fish contracted with a paper by the Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit at New Mexico State University. The Game Department contracted with them to do this research. Basically it just entailed interviewing trappers in other places that had wolves, and researching the literature. That paper was produced but since embargoed because the Cooperative Research Unit is under the USGS (United States Geological Survey), and it is awaiting publication. The USGS does not want it to be released until it is published, so they told the Game Department that at this point it is for their use only. None of the public has seen this paper. We don’t know what’s in it but the Department is recommending that trapping should carte blanche be reinstated.
WW: Certainly sounds politically motivated.
MK: Well, as you know the Department of Game and Fish withdrew from the Mexican Gray Wolf Reintroduction Program. I was at that meeting where that happened. We had a rally beforehand. It was incredibly well attended, and at the meeting itself there were more people supporting Mexican gray wolves than there were opposing.When everyone was done speaking, it was so sudden and obviously well planned…one commissioner moved to withdraw from the program, and they had a date to do that, I believe July 3oth. Another commissioner seconded it and it was done.
WW: Did you see that coming?
MK: I did wonder where that came from, and later realized it was from the Governor’s office.
WW: What does the state say is the main reason for having trapping on public lands in the first place? Do they contend that it is part of their wildlife management plan?
MK: Of course they say that but when we look at the numbers…when pelt prices are low there is very little trapping. When pelt prices are high there is a lot of trapping. Bobcats are the number one species..they are lucrative, but gray fox have been hammered pretty hard too in recent years. But when you look at the numbers, do we know how many bobcats we have? No. Do we know what effect trapping has on bobcats? I mean, are there localized areas where they are really being hurt? A trapper can park and his traps in the same place for four and a half months, and then leave when he’s not catching anything. When there’s nothing left, what effect is that having? We don’t know.
The word management implies: You have a plan…that you have a goal. That you have a way to measure the outcome. We don’t have any of that. So calling it management is really a farce. You look at the way these trappers set traps, because time is money. These are not people going into the heart of the wilderness and spending the winter. They spend the night in their bed in town, every night, and then they drive out to where they are trapping, which are just off the roads that are easily accessible to the rest of us. We do have an every day calendar trap check, so today at some point every day that each trap has to be checked. That is a small way that might limit how many traps a trapper can have if he actually follows the law. Because of this they are driving the roads, pretty much to save time. They are supposed to set traps a minimum of 25 yards off the road, and to get around they they simply make new roads, whether it be a trail or path or whatever.
WW: Do people get injured from traps as well?
MK: The main way people are hurt is when their dogs become trapped. They get hurt trying to remove the trap.
WW: What are the limits on where one can trap?
MK: The trap can be one quarter mile from an occupied dwelling, playground, boat ramp, and twenty five yards from a road or trail, and the definition between road and trail is very narrow.
WW: Thank you so much for what you do. Trapping is such a horrible barbaric practice and we are lucky for organizations like yours for taking a stand on these issues.
MK: What makes it even worse it the attitude of the Department of Games and Fish. They belittle us. They act like trapping is something we have to have, an important activity for people who do it. An important source of income. But the degree to which they advocate for trappers is surprising to me.
WW: People need to stop buying these pelts.
MK: Yes, and the way for that to happen is for them to know…People need to know. That’s where you are doing the Lord’s work!
Two days later, following this interview, the ban on trapping on public lands was lifted by a unanimous vote. Mary Katherine saw that coming. I have no doubt that this will make Trap Free New Mexico fight even harder to turn this around. Support them in any way you can, as this is such a worthy cause. There is such an incredible need to put a stop to this once and for all.
Here is the story on the decision to allow trapping on public lands to resume:
(Co President National Wolfwatcher Coalition)