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Trapping season is underway and dog walkers should take precautions to protect pets

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
James Stackhouse says his two-year-old husky was caught in a leg trap while hiking near Lake Farmington.

AZTEC — It isn’t unusual for James Stackhouse’s husky, Ivy, to disappear for a couple minutes while they are out hiking. She’s never out of sight for long and, at first, he didn’t think much about her absence as they were hiking near Lake Farmington on Nov. 14.

Stackhouse said he whistled for Ivy and heard her scream. The two-year-old dog had been attracted by a deer carcass and ended up trapped in a leg trap.

Trapping season began on Nov. 1 and people recreating should take extra care while hiking in areas that allow trapping. The laws require that traps be marked with a number or information to identify the trapper. The trapper must check the traps daily and the traps cannot be set within 75-feet of a trail or road.

Tristanna Stackhouse, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said the incident that resulted in Ivy being caught in the trap remains under investigation.

Stackhouse called his wife and three friends came to help him extract Ivy from the trap and rush her to a vet. He has since been concerned about trapping near Lake Farmington, which is a popular recreation site.

Lake Farmington is pictured on April 30, 2020.

The area where Stackhouse was hiking between the lake and Foothills Drive includes a mixture of land ownership. Some of it is federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Other portions belong to private property owners. Stackhouse was on state trust land when his dog was caught. State trust land requires a permit, such as a hunting license. 

While Stackhouse now has a map of the different lands, he said the map is hard to read and it is hard to know when the BLM land ends and state trust land begins.

He said he would like to see the BLM, state and Farmington come together and create a no trapping zone near the lake.

“Now I’m afraid to walk the dog out there ever again,” he said.

Trapping on public lands

Animal Protection Voters of New Mexico has been lobbying for years to end trapping on public lands. Chief Legislative Officer Jessica Johnson said as outdoor recreation becomes more common in New Mexico she anticipates there will be more incidents where dogs are caught in traps. And, she said, tourists may be distressed or disturbed if they see an animal caught in a trap.

“I really hope we don’t have to wait for a child to be caught,” she said.

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This law that Animal Protection is lobbying for has been named Roxy’s Law, after a dog that was caught in a snare and strangled to death near Espanola.

“The trap doesn’t know the difference between a coyote and a husky,” she said.

Neighboring states like Colorado and Arizona have banned traps, snares and poisons on public lands. Johnson said if New Mexico develops a reputation for having traps near recreation areas the tourists may choose to visit similar landscapes in neighboring states.

Outdoor recreation and trapping

Chance Thedford, the president of the New Mexico Trappers Association, noted that the snare that trapped and killed that dog near Espanola was set by poachers rather than a licensed trapper.

But Thedford said trapping and other forms of outdoor recreation and tourism can coexist.

“This is not a zero-sum game, both can and have existed forever. New Mexico's public lands are used by everyone and the NMTA recognizes that, however, if everyone involved follows the rules there is very little chance of conflict,” he said in an email to The Daily Times.

And, he added, trapping plays an important role in controlling populations of the species that are harvested.

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“Regulated trapping provides many benefits which can include reducing crop, pet, or livestock losses, damage to private property, and reducing disease threats to human and pet health and safety,” Thedford said.

He said the species that can be trapped are abundant and trapping regulations are written with input from wildlife biologists and are scientifically-based.

“Modern foot-hold traps, when set legally, are safe, humane, and selective,” he said.

Johnson disagreed with Thedford about the traps being humane and argued that furbearers — the animals that are trapped — are the only species managed with no bag limit. That means trappers can take as many animals as they can catch and sell the pelts for profit, she said. 

Thedford said by educating the public, and new regulations that went into effect in April, trappers hope to reduce conflicts between themselves and other people recreating on the public lands.

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“This is one reason the NMTA pushed for and finally got mandatory trapper education required for every trapper in the state last year,” he said.

But he acknowledged that problems can occur with poachers who do not follow the rules and do not have a license to be trapping. He said if the trap was illegally set that caught Ivy the person who set that trap should be prosecuted.

In addition to requiring traps to be set more than 75-feet from trails and roads, the new regulations also require trappers to set their traps at least half a mile from any campground, trailhead, boat launch, rest area, picnic area or occupied dwelling. 

Johnson, on the other hand, argued that the new regulations do not go far enough to prevent dogs from getting trapped. Just a couple weeks into furbearer season, she said she was not surprised to hear of a dog being trapped.

Trapping season

Trappers are not allowed to hunt or trap species like mink, river otter, black-footed ferret, marten or coatimundi.

Nutria, a large, invasive rodent that has damaged wetlands and riparian habitat in the United States, can be trapped year round. They are found in the Rio Hondo in Chaves and Lincoln counties.

Coyotes and skunks can be trapped year round.

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Badger, bobcat, fox, ringtail and weasel season is open Nov. 1 through March 15

Beaver and muskrat season is during April and from Nov. 1 to March 31

Raccoons can be year round, however, from mid-May until Aug. 31, trapping of racoons is limited to cage traps, foot-encapsulating traps and hunting.

There is no bag limit for furbearers that are legal to trap.

What to do if your dog is caught

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has released a guide to freeing dogs from traps and snares. It recommends covering the dog’s head with a jacket to prevent being bitten while extracting the dog from a trap. In terms of snares, a set of bolt cutters may be needed to free the dog from a snare.

People who see traps or have an animal caught in the trap can report them at TrapFreeNM.org. Johnson said Trap Free New Mexico has been collecting data on trapping because it is not currently collected by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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