Pets in the Gila National Forest

A frequent response by trappers to reports of dogs being caught and injured in steel-jaw leghold traps on public lands is that dogs are not allowed off-leash on such lands. (One implication being that the dog got what it deserved.)

Whatever the implication, that response is nonsensical on several levels. First, having a dog on a leash does not mean that it won’t get caught in a hidden leghold or other trap. Dogs being walked on leashes have been caught in such traps and will continue to be caught up in them because New Mexico’s trapping regs are geared to enabling trappers to the greatest extent possible, with little consideration given to protecting the public and their pets from harm caused by hidden traps.

For instance, under New Mexico’s trapping regulations, there is no prohibition on setting traps on or in the immediate vicinity of trails that do not appear on a government map for the general public. As anyone who has hiked the Gila knows, there are any number of trails and paths that do not appear on a government map.

With respect to official U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management system trails, or the shoulders of any public roads annually maintained with public funds, hidden traps are permitted as close to 25 yards of them. Twenty-five yards is about 30 steps. 

Hidden leghold traps are also permitted as close as one-quarter mile (about a five-minute walk) of “an established public campground, roadside rest area, picnic area or boat launching area.”

Second, as others have pointed out, many legitimate reasons exist why dogs are needed (and permitted to be) off leash on public lands: hunting dogs, herding dogs, livestock security dogs, and dogs accompanying horseback riders.

Third, with respect to the specific question of whether or not there is a requirement that dogs must be on a leash in the Gila National Forest, according to the brochure* given to the public at the Gila National Forest (GNF) Silver City office,** the following is prohibited on recreation sites on national forests and national grasslands:

  • Bringing in or possessing an animal, other than a seeing eye dog, unless it is crated, caged, or upon a leash not longer than 6 feet, or otherwise under physical restrictive control.
  • Bringing in or possessing in a swimming area an animal, other than a seeing eye dog.
  • Bringing in or possessing a saddle, pack, or draft animal except as authorized by posted restrictions.

However, in spite of the above written federal regulation requiring dogs to be “under physical restrictive control,” the ranger who regularly works the public counter in the Silver City GNF office’s reception area states that the local “guidelines” adopted by this particular office, allows dogs to be off-leash beyond 200-feet of a trail head as long as the dog can be controlled by voice command.

So, for many reasons and purposes, dogs are permitted off-leash in the Gila National Forest. And because the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s lax trapping regulations do not take the safety of the public at large into consideration, dogs (and cats, too) will continue to be injured, maimed and killed by hidden steel-jaw leghold traps on public lands within the Gila National Forest.

*Regulations Governing the Occupancy and Use of Developed Sites on National Forests and Grasslands, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southwestern Region, PR-R3-16-3

**3005 E. Camino del Bosque, Silver City, NM 88061-7863, 575-388-8201