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Three Recent Incidents Plague New Mexicans
Santa Fe, NM. Since mid-December, at least three New Mexico residents and/or their dogs have been caught in leg-hold traps set out by fur trappers. In one instance, the traps were illegally set but snows have hampered investigation by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
On December 12, while hiking on the Dome Road of the Santa Fe National Forest, Maggie Craw, a Peña Blanca resident and her friend, found themselves frantically rescuing Craw’s Labrador retriever, Lulu. It took both adults to accomplish the task after a steel-jawed, leg-hold trap slammed shut and concussed Lulu’s paw.
“We were absolutely frightened!” exclaimed Craw, “Lulu grew increasingly agitated while we scrambled to hold her down and release the trap.” She affirmed that, “Lulu’s screams were horrific—sounds that I didn’t know a dog could make—horrible haunting sounds that I never want to hear again,” Craw added.
Lulu’s trap, placed near the roadway, was illegal because it both failed to identify the trapper and was baited with fresh meat. It is legal, however, to hide traps within as little as 75 feet from a road or trail. Game Warden Desi Ortiz and Craw attempted to visit the site on December 17, but deep snow prevented them and a second visit on December 27 was unfruitful because of snow cover over the traps.
“I’m shocked to learn that traps can be set so close to a public road,” Craw emphasized.
On December 20th, hiker Arifa Goodman and her two dogs got caught in traps near the Village of San Cristobal located in Taos County. Goodman was walking on the Carson National Forest where she walks daily with her canine companions, Wally, a Belgian Malinios, and Jasper, a German Shepherd.
After Wally’s front paw was captured by a coyote trap, he howled. Goodman, “operating on adrenaline,” forced open the trap but could not sustain the strength to hold the apparatus open. Her own fingers became ensnared and were crushed. She tried desperately for about ten minutes to open the trap and when that effort failed, she untied the stake from around a tree and spent the next 20 minutes “running down the hill.” Goodman knocked on several doors before someone was able to help her.
She said, “I think I spent 30 minutes with three fingers caught in the trap. My fingers were numb and I felt at one point I might lose one of them.”
Even during her ordeal, Goodman realized Jasper was missing and feared she too was also caught in a trap. As soon as she was free, Goodman raced her car back up the hill to find Jasper, who was in a desperate state. Jasper had one toe caught in a trap, was lying on the ground, but her rear left leg was suspended in the air with the trap hanging over a bent tree. The only way to open the trap Goodman realized was to get it onto the ground and stand with all her weight on either side to release the mechanism. But because of its position the only thing she could do was unbury the stake.
“Luckily the ground was not frozen,” said Goodman, “otherwise I would not have been able to get it out.” She used the iron from her car jack to dig up the stake.
She recalled, “It took me an hour to free Jasper. She was bleeding profusely. I took her on an emergency vet run twelve miles into Taos, where my vet met us after hours. Jasper received approximately 10 stitches, bandages, and antibiotics. Her cut was very deep.”
“The next day, my own hand was still numb,” added Goodman. “I went to urgent care myself, after driving myself to Taos where I was X-rayed, given a tetanus shot and antibiotics. Two and one-half weeks after this incident, I still have no sensation in one finger.”
“Getting caught in a trap can happen to anyone. It’s a danger to anyone who uses the forest, and traps should not be allowed so close to communities. When one’s dog is caught in a trap howling in pain, the only thing one can think about is getting the dog free. A person could die if caught in a trap and it’s frozen to the ground and they cannot get out. It could happen to anyone—it almost happened to me.”
In Goodman’s case, the traps were legally placed. The trapper was notified of the incident because the traps were set near popular hiking trails. Goodman’s experience of freeing her two dogs and herself took approximately 2 hours, she recalled.
A third incident occurred 30 miles west of Taos on public lands. Attempts to contact the woman have not yet been successful.
Trappers seek to ensnare wildlife like bobcats, foxes and coyotes in order to make money from selling their pelts.
“Most people mistakenly believe trapping is illegal. In fact, trapping activities have spiked in recent years because of overseas demands. Fur pelts brings more money than ever,” noted Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Ray had her own run-in with a trap in 2004. She was hiking in a remote area with her two dogs when, because they were on leashes, all three were lured to the trap location by the scent bait the trapper had applied. “Luckily, the way I placed my foot inadvertently kicked the trap and it slammed shut harmlessly. But I discovered that I was not strong enough or big enough to have opened it and with the ground frozen and me a 90 minute walk from my vehicle, I don’t know what I would have done. Even though none of us were hurt, knowing traps can be lurking out there has taken away some of the peace I once enjoyed while hiking alone on public lands. Because of trap danger, I feel like I can’t hike in some places now.”
Both Arizona (1994) and Colorado (1996) banned public lands trapping through citizen initiatives. New Mexico has no citizen-ballot initiative process.
“New Mexicans, unlike Coloradoans or Arizonans, must remain vigilant for hidden traps on public lands while recreating. Traps do not discriminate between their victims, but they are cruel torture for any animal or person caught in them,” stated Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians. “The trap-check time in New Mexico is once daily, except for coyote traps which have no time requirements,” she added.
NM Trapping Background Information
The Rio Grand Chapter of the Sierra Club has been collecting stories from trap victims since 2005.
State Furbearer Regulations – Process Under Review
In December 2010, the New Mexico Game Commission voted to review the furbearer trapping rules but did not set the date for the new review. Hearings before for the Game Commission have not yet been scheduled.
The petition requesting that the trapping regulations be opened was submitted by WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter, and Animal Protection of New Mexico in 2009 after record numbers of bobcats and foxes were killed by furtrappers and because the Game Commission had not visited the issue for four years despite the high, unsustainable rates of trapping.
Mexican Wolves and Trapping
On July 28, 2010, Governor Bill Richardson issued an executive order that prohibited leghold and body-crushing traps within the Mexican wolf recovery area in New Mexico to protect lobos. The trap ban, intended to protect highly endangered Mexican wolves, occurred after fourteen wolves had been caught in furtrappers’ traps since 2002. Two wolves sustained leg amputations stemming from trap injuries.
The order banned commercial and recreational trapping in this area by private persons for a six-month period beginning on November 1, 2010; required NMDGF to undertake a study to see if traps harm wolves; and directed the Department of Tourism to undertake a study on potential economic benefits of lobo-related ecotourism.
On October 28, 2010, the Game Commission unanimously adopted the Governor’s Executive Order as part of its regulations. But at that hearing, Jim Lane, Wildlife Chief for Game and Fish declared that coyote trapping would be legal because the agency had “no authority” to regulate coyotes.
On November 8, 2010 Game and Fish put out a press release that stated: “The trapping ban was in effect November 1, and applies to steel traps, foothold traps, snares and conibear body-gripping traps. Trapping for coyotes is allowed. Trapping for regulated furbearer is allowed when necessary to protect public safety and private property.”
Game and Fish’s position is contrary to New Mexico’s laws for protecting endangered species and ignores their own regulations.
Three NM Governmental Bodies Adopted Anti-Trapping Resolutions in 2010
Town of Silver City — the county seat of Grant County, New Mexico, the county which historically has lead the state in the highest number of animals trapped. Resolution unanimously adopted on February 23, 2010.
Animal Service Center of Mesilla Valley — a public entity operated under a joint powers agreement by the City of Las Cruces (New Mexico’s second-most populous city) and Doña Ana County. The ASCMV Board of Directors, who unanimously approved this resolution on June 3, 2010, is composed of elected Doña Ana County commissioners and elected City of Las Cruces councilors.
The Town Of Mesilla, unanimously passed a resolution on December 13, 2010.