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NM Hikers: Beware of Hidden Animal Traps on Public Lands


Monday, February 12, 2018   

SANTA FE, N. M. – There's still a month left in the animal-trapping season and, with the weather warming, hikers on public lands need to exercise caution – especially if they bring their dogs along.

Trapping for fox, badger, weasel, ringtail and bobcat is legal on public lands from Nov. 1 to March 15.

Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said traps are only required to be 25 yards away from roads or trails, and a dog can easily find itself caught in a leg-hold trap or snare.

"Having a dog trapped is a frightening and traumatic experience," said Ray. "People universally say they don't know what's happened to their dog. People say they think a snake, they think some animal attacked it – that the dog is, basically, the word they use is 'screaming' – because when the trap slams shut, it's the equivalent to having your hand caught in a car door."

Diagrams showing how to free a pet accidentally caught in a trap can be found at But some traps are very difficult to open, and Ray said a pet owner may need to transport their pet to a veterinary clinic to have it removed.

She said the Sierra Club supports laws to ban trapping. But until those laws are changed, pet owners should know how to respond.

"No matter how friendly and lovable that dog is, they lose their mind in response to the pain of the trap," she said. "So, people are often bitten trying to rescue their own dog, and sometimes bitten severely. We recommend that one thing you do to try to avoid that is cover your dog with a jacket."

Arizona and Colorado banned lethal trapping more than 20 years ago, but New Mexico lawmakers have so far rejected similar legislation. Trappers say the practice is key to controlling carnivores that prey on livestock.

The Sierra Club and other conservation groups also oppose coyote-killing contests popular in New Mexico, but have so far been unable to get legislation passed to ban the practice. Ray said there is no evidence the contests benefit management of the coyote population.

"They're a little wild dog, and they're beautiful, and how poor would we be if you couldn't go out at night and hear coyotes howling to each other?" she asked. "That is a rich sound in nature, and they actually do a really important service in keeping rodents and rabbits in check."

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish estimates the number of fur bearers trapped and killed in New Mexico each year is more than 5,000. But that figure does not include coyotes, which are killed in equal numbers.

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