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Legislature approves public lands trapping ban

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Controversial legislation to ban most trapping on public lands in New Mexico passed the state House Thursday evening by a single vote.

House members approved the bill 35-34. Last week the bill passed the Senate 23-16. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her signature.

The Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, Senate Bill 32 (SB 32), makes it a criminal misdemeanor “to use a trap, snare, or poison wildlife for the purposes of capturing, injuring or killing an animal on public land,” the legislation states.

Hunting and trapping on private or tribal land would be allowed to continue. Exemptions to the prohibition on state and federal public land also would be in place for bonafide scientific research, rodent control, and trapping by an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe or pueblo for religious or ceremonial purposes. Government agencies could also trap on public lands to mitigate or prevent public health or safety risks.

If signed into law, SB 32 would take effect April 1, 2022.

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State Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, who is one of four House sponsors of the bill, called the practice of trapping cruel, indiscriminate and a threat to public safety. He said pets have sometimes become ensnared in trapping devices while visiting state and federal lands with their owners.

“Not only are pets maimed and killed but people are often injured trying to rescue their panicked pets,” McQueen said.

Trapping on public lands, he said, ran counter to New Mexico’s efforts to expand its burgeoning tourism sector and outdoor economy because of the risk the traps present.

Critics though said that a moratorium on public land trapping would deprive wildlife management officials as well as agriculture producers of a valuable tool for protecting their herds.

“This bill is based on emotion, it is not based on science or factual data,” state Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, said.

Ezzell, who is a rancher, described trapping as crucial for managing wildlife. She said it is also utilized by agriculture producers to safeguard livestock from predators, such as coyotes and mountain lions.

In a half-hour long floor speech, Ezzell recounted several incidents where her livestock were ravaged, including when a pack of coyotes killed a heifer and a calf that it was giving birth to at the time.

The loss of livestock, she said, places a heavy burden on agriculture producers.

House District 59 state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, expressed concern a prohibition on trapping could have repercussions across the state, especially in rural areas where sheep and cattle ranchers already experience high rates of animal depredation.

The legislation would allow trapping on private land to continue, but Nibert said most ranches are combinations of private land and state and federal public land which are in close proximity to one another.

“So you have a ranching operation that basically has three statuses of ownership,” he said.

McQueen said in the debate that states such as Arizona and Colorado have similar laws against trapping on public lands but have rates of depredation that are as high or lower than New Mexico.

Opponents also pointed out that SB 32 could negatively impact the activities of fur trappers, who rely on trapping for their income.

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell, said trappers who do not have access to private or tribal land could be prevented from not only making a living, but it could also leave trappers saddled with a large number of traps they can no longer use.

Anderson proposed an amendment to the bill to establish the “trap surrender program,” where individuals who relinquish their traps to the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game could receive a tax credit for the years 2022 and 2023.

“I think it is only fair that we provide them with a way to sell their inventory because they do not enjoy private or tribal land in order to pursue this livelihood,” he said.

McQueen said the amendment is something he would be willing to consider in future sessions but in its current form there were too many unanswered questions about how it would be administered.

The House subsequently voted 48-10 to table Anderson’s amendment.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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