Today, April 1, the Roxy Law – a ban on trapping on public lands that has been in place for more than a decade – comes into effect. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it last year.
Nearly 32 million acres of public lands, including state-owned tracts, national forests and Bureau of Land Management properties, will be free from not only cruel jaw traps, which can amputate and maim, but also choke traps, crushing traps and deadly poisons like sodium cyanide bombs. From the beautiful Latir Peak Wilderness to the incredible mountains of Florida, vast swathes of New Mexico will be safer for people, puppies and wildlife.
Along with Roxy’s Law, New Mexico has taken other important steps to protect wildlife. In 2019, the state banned gruesome coyote killing contests, events that reward indiscriminate and senseless killing. Currently, the state is rolling out its plan of projects to protect wildlife from vehicle collisions along busy travel and migration corridors.
These are the signs of a new era across the Land of Enchantment. An era in which coexistence is the norm, exploitation and cruelty are on the decline, and native foxes, bobcats, beavers, badgers and wolves are revered for their ecological roles and honored for their intrinsic value, and not persecuted as inconveniences. We are leaving behind nearly 200 years of primarily viewing wildlife as just a thing to be slaughtered and sold.
Yet New Mexico is not yet the beacon of wildlife management that it should be:
- A memorial urging the federal government to tackle the biodiversity crisis died without a vote in the state Senate last month.
- Our gaming commission has been a merry-go-round as the governor appoints and fires commissioners as he sees fit. Yet she has let a year pass since the tragic death of David Soules without appointing anyone to the commission’s curatorial post. Without stability within the commission, it is unclear where the necessary leadership will come from.
- The state still opposes the restoration of Mexican wolves in the Southern Rockies, where the lobos belong and where scientists say they must live to fully recover.
Congress appears poised to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich, DN.M.), which could provide funding to states to protect nongame wildlife. But our wildlife agency doesn’t even have the authority to manage or protect many species, including the Gunnison’s prairie dog, the Rio Grande sucker, and 23 of New Mexico’s 26 species of bats. to name a few. And they don’t want that responsibility; they want to continue to focus on the fraction of animals chased and killed by sportsmen.
Wildlife law could be the inflection point New Mexico needs. Bold leadership is needed to modernize the Game and Fish Department. So let’s remember that there is still a lot of work to do and progress to be made:
- We need a comprehensive state wildlife agency that is more invested in protecting all wildlife, and not just focused on game species like elk and non-native rainbow trout.
- We need a wildlife agency that sees all New Mexicans as stakeholders, not an agency that only cares for the minority of New Mexicans, who, like me, buy hunting licenses and fishing.
- We need a wildlife agency with the will and the revenue to manage and protect our state’s many wildlife species.
Roxy’s Law alone is worth celebrating, of course. But it also represents a critical marker on New Mexico’s journey to reinvent the way we perceive and live with the wildlife that makes this place special. Let’s take the next step and push for a national wildlife agency that serves all people and wildlife in New Mexico.
Chris Smith is from northern New Mexico and works for WildEarth Guardians to protect wildlife and biodiversity in the Southwest.