December 9, 2019

New Mexico: Unanimous Vote by Game Commission Puts an End to Recreational Cougar Trapping

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Inter-Mountain Western States Coordinator

On November 21, the New Mexico Game Commission unanimously voted to approve a proposed regulation, prohibiting recreational trapping of cougars within the state for the 2020-2024 seasons.

The attack on sportsmen’s trapping traditions and heritage in New Mexico ramped up during the 2019 legislative session after an extremely unfortunate accident where a domesticated dog was caught in a poacher’s illegal snare and died as a result. A bill dubbed “Roxy’s Law,” after the deceased dog, would have banned all traps, snares, and animal toxicants on public land, with minimal exceptions. Roxy’s Law however, never made it to the floor for a vote. After being thwarted in the legislature, animal rights groups supporting the bill decided to try their hand with the Game Commission, and were ultimately successful. 

The decision to ban recreational cougar trapping came after some of these groups filed a lawsuit, arguing that recreational cougar trapping poses a direct threat to legally protected species, such as the federally endangered Mexican gray wolf. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that cougar quotas are unsustainably high and based off of unreliable population estimates. However, New Mexico Game and Fish has countered that claim with the fact that cougar population estimates are a direct result of density estimates from several academic studies conducted throughout New Mexico, comparable habitat in other states, and current habitat quality. The culmination of these components determines the quantity of cougars available for harvest, while maintaining healthy and sustainable populations in the state. Under the approved rule, hunters would still be allowed to harvest a total of 580 cougars throughout the state via methods other than recreational trapping.

An animal rights group representative stated, “We urge the Commission to take the next logical step, which is to prohibit all traps and snares on public lands. Trapping and public lands are incompatible.” Proponents of the rule also stated that the commission made the right decision by voting to ban cougar trapping, but that more needs to be done. This clearly indicates that they have plans to continue to chip away at the trapping traditions and heritage of the sportsmen and women of New Mexico.

Additional proposed trapping restrictions are currently under consideration by the Commission on recreational trapping on public land outside of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Taos, as well as implementing a setback distance of one-half mile from all trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, occupied dwellings, boat launches, and road side rest areas. The proposed setback changes could negatively impact trapping on private land. Under the proposed new regulation, if any of these establishments are within a half-mile of private property, landowners would be prohibited from trapping on sections of their property that are located within the half-mile setback distance.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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