Hunting Accident File > Safe Trapping? > 2005

Trap sets off fuss


Nov 17, 2005

A Grant County woman reportedly stepped in a leg-hold trap earlier this month in the Gila National Forest when she attempted to open another trap in which her dog had stepped, according to Animal Protection of New Mexico, which issued a news release on the incident.

The woman, who is a nurse, was walking Nov. 8 in the Gila National Forest when the incident occurred.

"I was wearing sandals at the time, and luckily was able to pull back quickly so the trap only grazed my toes, drawing some blood, before it clamped onto the end of my sandal," the woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the trapper, said in the news release. "I can't believe we allow these cruel and torturous devices on our public lands this day and age. I feel it really reflects poorly on New Mexico."

Jeff Lehmer, owner of Lehmer Taxidermy in Pinos Altos and the southwest director of the New Mexico Trappers Association, said Wednesday that the public needs to be better educated about the practice of trapping.

"It's trapping season and there are laws," Lehmer said. "Everybody's using the woods and trappers are allowed to use the woods, too. It's a lack of education, of not knowing what a trap is."

According to a poll released by Animal Protection of New Mexico this week, the majority of New Mexicans believe trapping should be banned on public lands.

The survey, which was conducted by Research & Polling, Inc., said that 41 percent of voters who were polled strongly support placing a ban on leg-hold, snare and lethal traps on public lands, 22 percent said they would somewhat support implementing a ban, while 22 percent are opposed to such a ban. Support for banning trapping is strongest among female and Anglo voters as well as those who participate in outdoor activities such as backpacking, bird and animal watching and hiking, according to the survey.

"They think trappers are a bloodthirsty bunch, but they're probably the finest woodsmen there are," said Lehmer, who had not yet had the opportunity to see the poll. "It used to be a noble profession during the Depression era. People were impressed with someone who could make a living off the woods. Now, most do it as a hobby. You sure aren't gonna make a living at it."

According to Winston resident Mary Katherine Ray, a retired schoolteacher and volunteer for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, run-ins with traps are all too common in New Mexico.

"There are no bag limits, no limits to the number of traps set out, and very little oversight of cruel and indiscriminate trapping in New Mexico," Ray said in a statement.

But Lehmer said his organization only has about 200 members.

"We're a small group," he said. "And the ones that are out there pretty much know what they're doing. A few bad apples can mess stuff up."

According to the survey, nearly six in 10 New Mexicans polled did not even know that trapping was occurring on public lands in the state.

"What's especially notable is that across the board, all groups of New Mexicans favored prohibiting trapping on public lands -- men, women, rural, urban, Republicans, Democrats, hunters, backpackers, pet owners -- everyone," said Ray.

Jon Schwedler, a wildlife representative for Animal Protection of New Mexico, which helped underwrite the survey, along with the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club and the Animal Protection Institute, said trapping numbers are difficult to accurately ascertain, but he did provide some information.

"According to New Mexico Game and Fish numbers, more than 18,000 animals were killed by body-gripping traps in New Mexico last year -- and that doesn't include cougars, mule deer, pet dogs and cats, and other non-target animals," he said.

Mike Sauber, co-owner of Gila Hike and Bike, spends time in the forest frequently. Though he's talked with people who have had run-ins with traps, he's not personally seen any in the 25 years he's lived in New Mexico. Still, he believes the issue is important.

"I think it's a huge issue," he said. "I had a dabbling interest in it myself when I was young, but I've come around to the other direction. I don't think public lands should be a minefield and there's no regulation to label to let anybody know where a trap is. I don't think it's compatible with other recreational uses. On private land, that's their own thing, but public land is a different issue."

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