Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Roxy’s Law, named after a 2018 trap victim, is now in effect across the Land of Enchantment as of April 1. Traps, snares and poisons have imposed serious harm on people, pets and wildlife across New Mexico for a very long time. Implementation of the law means the state is now finally able to stop the prolonged deaths of its wild inhabitants and family pets on public lands.

“Traps and poisons are simply incompatible with public use,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The prohibition on their use, including cage traps, will stop the cruelty and exploitation inflicted on wildlife for the private profit in selling their skins. This exploitation is antithetical to conservation and has served no wildlife management need.”

New Mexicans and its visitors can celebrate safer public lands for their families, companion animals and the state’s wildlife.  Hikers no longer have to deal with desperate attempts to save a pet that gets caught in a trap and suffers the loss of a limb or sudden death. The new law bans leg-hold traps that can amputate and maim, strangulation snares, body-crushing traps and deadly poisons like sodium cyanide bombs across the state’s public lands, including state-owned parcels, national forests and Bureau of Land Management holdings.

“Now that archaic and ineffective traps and poisons are rightfully retired, we can work together to help each other truly coexist with wildlife and protect the lands and waters so important to us all,” said Michelle Lute, PhD and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. 

New Mexico joins less than a handful of Western states in either prohibiting or limiting trapping on public lands. The ban was approved in 2021 following failed attempts over more than 10 years by animal advocates. Supporters of the ban say the move will help protect endangered species such as the Mexican gray wolf and prevent household pets from getting caught in traps.

The Mexican gray wolf or Lobo, listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1976, is the smallest, most genetically distinct and one of the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf. Wildlife advocates and science believe a healthy wolf population in the wild would help balance ecosystems because predators act as checks on populations lower on the food chain which can benefit many other plant and animal species.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said implementation of the law means more folks will have memories of a bobcat poised to pounce or a fox scampering away. “Trapping will eventually be viewed with the same distaste now held for a past era’s entirely unregulated wildlife poisoning,” he said.

The new law highlights the change in how we perceive and live with wildlife in New Mexico. Roxy’s Law signals a shift in viewing wildlife as not just something to slaughter and sell. Wildlife is important from an ecological, cultural and economic perspective.

 “This law is a monumental step in terms of moving New Mexico’s wildlife management into accord with public values, the best available science, and a growing ethic of coexistence,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

Smith contends New Mexico isn’t yet the beacon of wildlife management that it should be if it continues to focus on the fraction of animals that are pursued and killed by sportsmen. “Our Game Commission has been a merry-go-round as the governor appoints and fires commissioners at her whim. Yet she has let a year elapse since the tragic passing of David Soules without appointing anyone to the conservation position on the commission. Without stability on the commission, it’s unclear where needed leadership will come from,” Smith explained.

Smith believes bold leadership is required to modernize the Department of Game and Fish. He advocates the need for a comprehensive state wildlife agency that is more invested in protecting all wildlife, not focused only on game species like elk and nonnative rainbow trout.

“We need a wildlife agency that sees all New Mexicans as stakeholders, not one that caters only to the minority of New Mexicans who, like me, buy hunting and fishing licenses. We need a wildlife agency with the authority, will and revenue to manage and protect the many wildlife species in our state,” Smith said.

New Mexico has taken other steps toward protecting wildlife. In 2019, the state banned gruesome coyote-killing contests that rewarded indiscriminate massacres. The state is also implementing its plan for projects to protect wildlife from vehicle collisions along heavily used movement and migration corridors.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), co-sponsored by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, would provide funding to states to protect non-game wildlife. The bill would establish nearly $1.4 billion in dedicated funding annually for state and tribal wildlife agencies to implement proactive and voluntary conservation measures to address America’s wildlife crisis. Tribal agencies would be provided with $97.5 million in dedicated funding annually to work on at-risk species recovery.

RAWA would also empower wildlife professionals to hold the nation’s wildlife in the public trust for generations to come by providing state and tribal agencies with the flexibility to conserve populations in an effective and cost-effective manner. The Act allots 10% of dedicated annual funds towards the implementation of a competitive grants program aimed at fostering regional cooperation among states. It also provides greater regulatory certainty for industry and private partners by conserving species and avoiding the need to list them under the Endangered Species Act.