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NM: Wildlife advocates say traps harm Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts in New Mexico

By Rebecca Moss

Four endangered Mexican gray wolves have been caught in hunting traps in New Mexico in the past two months, leaving one dead and another with an amputated leg.

Troubled by those numbers, wildlife advocates say the traps are a poorly recognized threat to rehabilitating Mexican gray wolves.

Since 2002, 38 Mexican wolves have been caught in traps in New Mexico — compared to just four trapped in Arizona in the same period. Of those, 18 were injured or required amputation and another five died as a result of the trap. The data was compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and analyzed by animal advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.

Bryan Bird, the Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, called the number of animals trapped each year “a bad sign. We have to get a handle on that.”

He said the data do not indicate whether the wolves that are injured or killed by traps are those with valuable genetic diversity — a crucial factor in helping to rebuild the largely inbred Mexican gray wolf population.

Arizona and New Mexico share the habitat for the animals, with 114 wolves counted in both states as of January 2017. An updated count is underway.

For many years, recovery of the wolf species has been a hard-fought battle in the Southwest between conservation advocates, ranchers and the state and federal governments. Efforts to reintroduce more wolves into New Mexico by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have faced strong opposition from ranchers, who argue the wolves prey on livestock. The administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez sued to block federal placement of wolves and to remove pups placed in New Mexico, but the effort was stymied by a judge.

Bird said the state now needs to address how trapping is harming endangered species rehabilitation. Trapping data for the endangered wolves, he said, shows that stronger legislation in Arizona is better protecting wolves there.

House Bill 366, introduced in the current legislative session, would do just that. It calls for a ban on trapping on New Mexico public lands. Known as Roxy’s Law, the bill was inspired by the death of a dog strangled in a trap in November. A similar bill introduced in the Senate would require the State Game Commission to address trapping on public land.

Ranchers say the bills constitute government overreach and that traps are a necessary tool to protect cattle from predators. Previous efforts to ban trapping have not made it far in the Legislature.

It is unclear if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration will take a different approach to Mexican wolf conservation efforts than former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Tristanna Bickford, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said the agency intends to provide input on the legislation.

“The department recognizes there are concerns with trapping in New Mexico that need to be addressed,” she said in an email.