Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Mexico’s Beautiful Little Bobcats: Too Beautiful for Their Own Good?

Cousins to the lynx, bobcats’ scientific name, Lynx rufus, refers to their beautiful reddish-brown, spotted coats, prized by fur buyers on the global markets. Unlike lynx however, bobcats enjoy neither federal protections, nor any safeguards if they live in the State of New Mexico.

In fact, New Mexico supplied a jaw-dropping 22,961 bobcat furs to the world’s fur market during the years 2000 to 2010. Most bobcats are trapped. Trapping regulations in New Mexico, already permissive just became of lenient as a result of the New Mexico Game Commission’s July 2011 decision.

In June, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Animal Protection of New Mexico, the “TrapFreeNM.org coalition,” requested that the Game Commission consider a trapping ban on New Mexico’s public lands. Instead of heeding the over 12,000 comments opposed to trapping in New Mexico, the Commission decided that:

  • Trappers should have no limits on the numbers of bobcats one could cull from the wild. The panel discussed an outlandish limit of 25 bobcats per person (but only for out-of-state trappers), but then decided against this restriction. Thus this regulation remains the same: any trapper can kill as many bobcats as he or she can capture in New Mexico, and then sell it for their own profit.
  • The July 2010 Governor Richardson executive order that banned trapping in the Mexican gray wolf recovery area was lifted. This, despite the fact that 14 highly-endangered Mexican Wolves have been trapped since 2002 resulting in two wolves having full-leg amputations, while others lost digits.
  • The Commission allowed trapping be expanded year-round onto other special lands, which previously enjoyed trapping prohibitions. Traps are now newly allowed in portions of the Wild Rivers Recreation Area of the Rio Grande, the Valle Vidal, a portion of the Vermejo Ranch, and the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

These decisions came because of a massive public process failure perpetrated by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the state agency charged with managing the state's wildlife. Despite the overwhelming public support to ban traps, the Game Commission delivered detrimental outcomes for New Mexico’s wildlife, people, and pets. That outcome came as a result of a stymied public's process.

  • Game and Fish officials held secret meetings with industry groups, and now claim that no record of those meetings exist.
  • Game and Fish held the public’s hearing in a remote corner of the state, Clayton, New Mexico, to stymie attendance.
  • Worse, the Commission, during its hearing, dismissed the massive public comment it received. Game Commissioner Jim McClintic dismissed the thousands of public comment he received as nothing more than “robo emails.”

In short, the Game Commission ignored the will of the people. But what does that mean for wildlife?

It’s hard to know because most animals are not counted with the exception of dead bobcats, who are counted because of an international law. Because of this count, 23,000 dead in a decade, we believe the bobcats have been dealt a huge, unsustainable blow to their population. Yet, bobcats are a favorite among the public.

The bobcat is an animal many of us have seen in the wild and are able to identify because of their tufted, black ears and short 6-inch tails. In fact their name comes from a shortened version of “bob-tailed cat.” Bobcats generally weigh between 25 and 40 pounds, with males usually outweighing females. Opportunistic eaters, bobcats stalk and prey—usually upon rodents and rabbits, but despite their size, they are, on occasion, capable of killing deer.

While New Mexico’s bobcat kills are supposed to be monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the State is required to ensure that the death toll does not cause “detriment” to the survival of bobcats, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish cannot defend its unscientific and irresponsible trapping policies or its sloppy population count methods.

  • Game and Fish allows an unlimited number of bobcats to be killed during one of the longest trapping seasons in the West:November to mid-March, 4.5 months—compared with, for example, Colorado’s 3-month season.
  • New Mexico trappers pay only $20 to cull as many bobcats as they can. With pelt prices fetching $600, we’re in the midst of a rush on bobcats – for their pelts.
  • The body-gripping traps allowed by the Department of Game and Fish are inherently cruel and non-selective. People, pets, and non-target wildlife, even protected species, are all too commonly caught in traps.
  • Animals frequently sustain injuries from restraining traps, in addition to physiological trauma, dehydration, exposure to weather, and predation by other animals. Animals released from restraining traps may later die from injuries and/or reduced ability to hunt or forage for food.

The number of human-related trapping incidents in New Mexico appears to be frequent—perhaps because record numbers of traps are on the ground because of high prices for bobcat pelts. Several recreationists, while hiking on national forest lands have had dogs snatched by bone-crushing traps. In December, one San Cristobal woman required medical attention after her fingers were smashed while trying to rescue her dogs, who also required medical care.

Arizona and Colorado already banned body-gripping traps from their public lands in the mid-1990s. We believe that New Mexico must follow now. A trap ban would better protect the State’s wildlife, people, and pets from the vicissitudes and ugliness of trapping.

Our viewpoint enjoys the support of a majority of New Mexicans. A 2005 poll found that 63% of New Mexican voters regardless of party affiliation supported a ban on traps. In short, most voters want to see traps banned because they are cruel devices.

New Mexicans appreciate viewing wildlife and knowing that the state’s wildlife are allowed to flourish in complex ecosystems—in fact, most New Mexicans who have identified themselves as wildlife recreationists fall into the category of wildlife watchers, nearly one million, compared to 2,000 trappers.

Banning traps on New Mexico’s public lands won’t be easy. Bobcats and all their wild brethren need your active support. Call your State legislator now. Let’s preserve the beauty of the bobcat and our wildlife. Let’s all band together to protect the bobcat, wolves, lynx, foxes, and others from overexploitation. Let’s ban the traps that maim wildlife, pets and people.

Photo courtesy of Elroy Limmer. Taken in Silver City, New Mexico.

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