The Lobbying Trap

The recently concluded session of the New Mexico Legislature defeated “Roxy’s Law,” House Bill 366, which would have restricted trapping on public land. In spite of a massive public campaign in favor of the bill, the professional lobbyists of Animal Protection Voters of New Mexico (APVNM) and their partners of TrapFree New Mexico gave up on the bill to save themselves the possible embarrassment of losing a vote on the floor.

SB51, which would have repealed New Mexico’s abortion ban, also went down to defeat. But unlike the TrapFree lobbyists, when faced with opposition, abortion rights activists nevertheless persisted (as Elizabeth Warren famously did when asserting her right to speak in the U.S. Senate) and forced the issue to a public vote.

Acknowledging that they might have won the vote, TrapFree is now assuring their followers that their lobbyists are secretly tracking state legislators:

“We eventually realized the vote count was too close and shaky to move forward. While it’s possible, with a little luck, the bill could have squeaked by with a win, losing a vote on the chamber floor would be detrimental to the bill and it was too much to risk given all the circumstances. But because of the lobbying work we’ve done, we now know exactly which legislators and House districts all of us need to work on for the next go-round, even without a vote taking place.”

Pleading that it’s “incredibly hard” for them to get a bill passed, they lay out a timeline, “similar to the effort to end cockfighting—which, we’ll remind you, took SEVENTEEN YEARS. We are now seven years into Roxy’s Law.” (Their emphasis.)

APVNM, a major part of the successful campaign to end cockfighting, fully backs TrapFree’s slow, behind-the-scenes approach, promising their supporters “we’ll share this information with constituents soon.” They describe how they bent over backward to include exceptions in Roxy’s Bill, “allowing certain key tools for ranchers and government agencies to protect public health and livestock. It will also help mitigate the emotional and financial strain of dealing with the loss or injury of an animal because of the jaws of a trap, a snare, or poisons.” The bill also exempts hunting with firearms and other weapons, which APVNM promotes in their petition as “fair chase principles of ethical hunting.”

APVNM, who once claimed to support animal rights, now thoughtlessly echoes TrapFree, who thoughtlessly echoes the Sierra Club, who thoughtlessly accepts the agenda of the hunters.

It’s time to end the cruel tradition of trapping

Although the pro-hunting Conservation Voters of New Mexico hailed the increased number of Democrats elected in 2018 as a pro-conservation majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives, state legislators divide more along urban-rural lines than along party lines Even without seeing the secret list of legislative supporters of trapping, it is safe to assume that they are supporters of the livestock industry. The slow lobbying-behind-the-scenes approach will indeed take at least another six years, as it will have to wait for the 2020 census to reflect the increasing urbanization of New Mexico, then for redistricting, and finally elections of state legislators to the new districts. Even then, it will be up to the urban majority to stand for democracy instead of cruel rural traditions.

Trapping has a long history in New Mexico. As an employee of the USDA Bureau of Biological Survey, Vernon O. Bailey trapped both wolves and coyotes, seen in the illustration above. The scientific name of the Mexican gray wolf subspecies, Canis lupus baileyi, commemorates his work.

The Bureau of Biological Survey evolved into the US Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services, both of which are part of the program to reintroduce Mexican wolves into the wild. All known Mexican wolves in the U.S. are descended from a population captured by wolf-trapper Roy T. McBride, commissioned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the last remaining Mexican wolves from the wild in 1977.

Trappers are stealing wildlife; can we steal traps?

As more coyotes, wolves, dogs, and others experience a painful death in traps, the issue will return to the New Mexico Game Commission. Fortunately, among the many bills quietly buried by the legislature was a misguided attempt by APVNM and their partners to extend Game Commissioners’ terms and protect them from public oversight. Under the current system, Governor Lujan Grisham has the authority to replace the current Game Commissioners with supporters of wildlife protection. Unfortunately, the Game Commission historically has always been controlled by hunters, whether they have been appointed by Democratic or Republican governors.

It will be up to animal activists both to push for new appointments, and to confront the Game Commissioners, whoever they may be.

When it comes to law enforcement, New Mexico is still the Wild West. Roxy, memorialized in the recently defeated trapping bill, was the victim of illegal trapping. The Game Commission and its Game Department have consistently ignored the 95% of the public who do not hunt. They claim that their salaries are paid entirely by hunters, although they get revenue from taxes on guns and ammunition bought for any purpose.

Henry David Thoreau, perhaps best known to conservationists for his statement, “In Wildness is the preservation of the World,” coined the term Civil Disobedience. In his essay by that name he wrote: “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”

Civil disobedience is based on the principle that it may be necessary to violate an unjust law for the sake of the greater good. Of course, no one should undertake illegal activity based on advice from a blog. But in many states a legal doctrine, known as the necessity defense or duress defense, recognizes that it may be necessary to break a law in order to prevent injury or death. The New Mexico Supreme Court recognizes this as a valid defense in a case where “fear of immediate and great bodily harm to himself or another and that a reasonable person in his position would have acted the same way under the circumstances.”

Reasonable people do not allow trappers to threaten the lives of wildlife and other animals.