Two local members of the New Mexico House of Representatives voted against a bill Saturday that would ban most trapping on state and federal lands, saying it would represent a financial blow to farmers and ranchers.
Members of the House Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources voted 8 to 4 to pass the bill out of committee with a “Do Pass Recommendation”. It next will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Committee members and State Reps. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, were among the four votes cast in opposition to the bill.
House Bill 366 (HB 366) would bar the use of traps, poison and snares on public lands for the killing, injuring or capturing of wildlife. Violations of the ban would be a misdemeanor that would result in a fine of $500 to $2,000.
The bill would not ban trapping on private land. The taking of wildlife through the use of a firearm, fishing or archery equipment would still be allowed, according to the bill. Traps, poison and snares could also still be used for rodent control, bonafide scientific research or by certain government agencies to prevent or mitigate dangers to human and public safety or to manage ecosystems.
Townsend said in an interview Monday that the bill is a travesty.
“That is going to put farmers and ranchers at a huge disadvantage,” he said. Townsend accused Democrats of pushing the bill as a way to please environmentalists.
During hours of testimony on both days of hearings, people from across the state crowded into the hearing room, offering testimony both for and against the bill.
State Rep. Catherine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, one of the bill sponsors, was among three expert witnesses who testified. The traps often go unchecked long enough that animals caught in them die of starvation, dehydration or are killed by another animal before they are found, she said.
Mary Katherine Ray, a volunteer with the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, and one of three expert witnesses who testified before the committee, said she has seen the damage traps can do.
Ray told the committee how her dog Greta’s foot got caught in a cow trap that was placed on a trail on public land while they were taking a walk a year ago.
“I will never forget the sound of Greta screaming and her frantic biting of the trap as I tried to free her,” Ray said.
Ray was able to open the trap and free Greta’s foot, but she ended up with injuries sustained from just a minute of having her foot in the trap. Traps are indiscriminate and cruel, she said.
Opponents said many livestock owners use public land for ranching, sheepherding and to raise other animals on. A ban on the traps would deprive those land users of a necessary tool used to keep predators such as foxes and coyotes away from their livestock. Some ranchers described in graphic detail how coyotes attack their livestock.
“This bill is government overreach and hinders livestock owners from protecting their livestock,” Randall Major of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association said at Thursday’s hearing.
Other opponents said the traps could hinder efforts to control wildlife populations, while trappers came forward to say that a ban on trapping would negatively affect their livelihood and keep them from practicing an activity they said has been a part of their heritage.
When questioning the expert witnesses, Anderson said he was worried about unintentional consequences of the legislation. Anderson asked Chandler and other expert witnesses if net fencing often used by livestock owners to confine animals could be construed as a trap or snare since animals can sometimes get their head stuck in it.
Chandler said fencing is not described in the definition of a trap under the bill.
Anderson said he believes the bill would end up having a negative economic impact in areas of the state where jobs are often scarce and economies are dependent on farming, ranching and trapping.
“These people are paying fees in eastern New Mexico to make a living and these bills are what they are worried about,” Anderson said. “These are people who just want to be left alone to make a living,” he said.
Chandler said Colorado, which has a statewide ban on traps covered in the bill, and Arizona, which bans trapping on public land, is evidence that there can still be a strong livestock industry without the traps.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301,or at firstname.lastname@example.org.