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Advocates say New Mexico’s trapping rules make public lands unsafe for everyone

May 19, 2010, 12:00 am

The furbearer rule will be opened for review later in the year, according to Stevenson. “I urge folks as much as I can, whether they be our trappers or anybody else out there on the ground, to be as reasonable as we can,” he tells SFR. “To get engaged in the rule-making process and to listen to the other person’s perspective and to then let us come up with the best management we can.”

It’s the Game Commission that will be charged with overseeing those hearings, although when Vice Chairman Sandy Buffett raised a motion to reopen the furbearer regulation to review at the commission’s April meeting, she failed to get a second.

 “I got over 200 emails from advocates asking us to open the rule, and I got, well, I can count on one hand the emails and phone calls to not open the rule,” Buffett, who also is the executive director of the nonprofit Conservation Voters New Mexico, says. “I am the conservation person on the commission, so it doesn’t mean they didn’t go to other members, but I’ve certainly heard much more from citizens who want us to revisit the rule.”

(It’s not uncommon to revisit wildlife rules: Since Buffett joined the commission in 2007, big-game rules have been reviewed twice. Big game refers to deer, elk, bighorn sheep, Barbary sheep, turkey, bear, cougar, ibex, oryx and javelina. The commission reviews those rules every two years, adjusting details such as limits, season dates and also addresses other issues that are raised by hunters.)

Recognizing that the Department of Game and Fish is overburdened with responsibilities right now, Buffett says her motion was meant as a compromise: It would not have changed the policy but, rather, kick-started the lengthy process by which commissioners and the Department of Game and Fish glean public comments and stakeholder input.

“I thought we were overdue for seeking public comment on how we can ensure that we know what the local populations are, what stable management practices are and to also look at other states for examples of best practices,” Buffett says.

Although Buffett did not get support for her motion, now the commission will look at the regulations at the end of the year.

“Although some people didn’t see it this way, I think it’s going to be to the benefit of the furbearer rules to wait until this fall to look at all this information”—including the harvest report data the department is currently assembling, commissioner “Dutch” Salmon says. “We certainly don’t want to overharvest any particular species but, on the other hand, I personally don’t want to put any trappers out of business or cut them off from their chosen pursuit just because it’s controversial.”

Speaking from his home in Silver City—just back from a canoeing trip and with dogs barking in the background—Salmon recognizes the delicacy of the issue. Wolves? “That’s another sticky wicket,” he says. But improved trapping techniques could be employed. As for other inadvertent trappings, he points out that trappers are required to carry a noose on the end of a stick—a catch-pole that can immobilize the animal, allowing someone to release it. If trappers find an injured animal—or a protected animal, such as a mountain lion or bear—they are supposed to contact a game warden, who will release and treat (or euthanize) the animal.
For his part, Salmon’s own hunting dogs have been repeatedly caught in traps.

“Fortunately, we’ve never had a serious injury because I know how to open the trap and get them out,” he says, acknowledging how unnerving the situation might be for someone unfamiliar with traps. “Unfortunately, a lot of urban people don’t know how to do it—the dog panics, the owner panics—but it pays to know it’s not difficult to release a pet from a trap.”

Salmon acknowledges he falls into the middle ground of the issue—though he’s never trapped, he does hunt furbearing species. “Like I say, I’ve had my dogs caught in traps, but I’m not per se anti-trapping,” he says. “I think there’s room for well-managed trapping—we just may need to tweak the regulations from time to time.”

The commission’s chairman, Jim McClintic, points out that those rules have been tweaked—and improved—in recent years: Trappers re-applying for a license must now submit “harvest data.” That is, they must report details about animals captured and killed. “It’s the same thing we’ve had for several years for big-game hunting,” he tells SFR. “That information helps us a lot.”

But in the end, McClintic says, “It’s basically a hunter-gatherer-type proposition. Trapping has been a way of the West ever since anyone has been over here, and I just believe it’s our way to control certain species—it’s harvesting.”  SFR

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