Befriending the Rock
Discovering rock climbing in the Cobre Mountains

Wild Kingdom
Wildlife rescuer and wrangler Dennis Miller

Sentimental Journey
The Hi Lo Silvers women's chorus hits 10 years of high notes

The ugly, the bad and the good

Man on a Mission
Exclusive interview with outgoing WNMU President John Counts


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Editor's Note
Desert Diary
Ramblin' Outdoors
The Starry Dome
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Henry Lightcap's Journal
Continental Divide

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Dining Guide
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Body, Mind & Spirit

Magic of Munching

About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  May 2011


Of Traps and Trails...   Our readers write.


Bobcat Trapping

Jay Sharp's "Bobcat's Tale" (April) is certainly an enjoyable and informative read, but a prime concern connected to these fascinating creatures went unmentioned: Thousands of bobcats in New Mexico and other states are trapped and killed each year for the purpose of stripping the hides from their backs in order to then sell them to the highest fashion-industry bidder—just so some human's body can eventually be decorated with the bobcat's fur. Tacking a bobcat's hide on the wall as "decoration" or tossing it on the floor as a "rug" are other "neat" things some people do with a dead bobcat's body parts.

According to New Mexico's Department of Game and Fish, from 2006 through 2009 nearly 11,000 bobcats were trapped and killed in our state alone. Nationwide, from 1980 to 2006 the hides of 800,000 bobcats were exported out of the country, mainly to Russia, China, Hong Kong and Italy.

And the favorite contraptions employed by trappers in New Mexico and elsewhere to snare bobcats and other "fur bearers," such as foxes, ringtail cats, raccoons, badgers, coyotes and skunks, is the steel-jaw leghold trap — a barbaric anachronistic abomination now outlawed in over 85 other nations because of their brutality. Several US states have also banned or severely restricted the use of steel-jaw leghold traps, including Arizona, Colorado, California, Washington and others.

As pointed out by the WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society and others, most states, but not New Mexico, limit the number of bobcats that can be trapped and killed each year. But such limits are based on guesstimated total populations, not authentic scientific data. Also, states provide little or no accounting of how many bobcat kittens are killed, or the remaining number of mature breeding females. Nor do they provide an accurate analysis of total populations that remain in a particular geographic region.

Wildlife biologist and author Kevin Hansen, whom Jay references several times in his article, states in his book, Bobcat: The Master of Survival:

Science is critical to understanding of the bobcat, but it has always played a secondary role in its management.[Emphasis mine.] This is because furbearer harvests are fundamentally driven by the opportunity for profit. Demand for furbearers changes dramatically with shifting fur markets, independently of furbearer population trends. In the case of the bobcat, economics has been a far greater influence than science in the management of the species. It was economics which initiated the massive exploitation of bobcats in the mid-1970s, and it was economics that dramatically reduced harvest with the stock market crash of 1987.

The need for humans in developed countries to wear the skins of other animals for protection against the elements long ago vanished. And it hasn't ever been necessary to tack an animal's skin on the wall or to throw it on the floor for decoration.

For these and other reasons, New Mexico should join its neighbor, Old Mexico, in prohibiting the export of bobcat body parts for profit.

Walter "Ski" Szymanski

Silver City

Thanks to Jay Sharp for the wonderful article about bobcats. The photos of these beautiful animals were a special treat. The article quoted the Fish and Wildlife Service saying that bobcat numbers have "fluctuated widely in New Mexico and across the West over the years, sometimes reaching alarmingly low levels…. Hunting and pelt-trading should be monitored closely."

The trade in bobcat pelts has indeed reached alarmingly high numbers in recent years. Between 2006 and 2010, 12,323 New Mexico bobcats were killed by trappers and sold to the fur market, fueled by demand overseas. Pelt prices are on the rise again after setbacks from the financial meltdown of 2008. Bobcats are falling victim to a macabre and brutal gold rush.

The season in New Mexico is four and half months long — the longest of any western state — and there are no limits to the number of bobcats that a trapper can kill. Aside from the horrible incompatibility of having brutal traps on public land where they pose a safety hazard to other people and their dogs (to say nothing of the unintended by-catch of non-target animals), the scientific monitoring of bobcat populations is woefully inadequate to demonstrate their protection.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is reviewing the rules governing "furbearer" management, which includes bobcats and trapping right now. You may comment by sending an email to

Mary Katherine Ray

Winston, NM



Forest Roads

I'm writing in response to Larry Lightner's April column, "Seeing the Forest for the Trees," about Travel Management Planning in the Gila National Forest. Larry advises folks to "get all the facts before you make up your mind," so I'm offering some facts Larry omitted.

Larry says, "If these roads and two-tracks are closed, then I and others like me (the elderly and disabled) will be unable to enjoy the forests we love," but this contradicts his previous statement that "plan G… would reduce the total open-road mileage in the forest to about 3,300 miles." For perspective, 3,300 miles is the driving distance from San Diego to Bangor, Maine. Any person capable of getting into a vehicle can drive the Gila's 3,300 miles.

Lightner mentioned trail inventories submitted to the Forest Service by off-road vehicle users (ORV) and claims the Forest Service "has now refused to acknowledge this vast unofficial road and trail system." The operative words here are "vast" and "unofficial." These vast miles of unauthorized roads and trails were all created by ORV users driving off of official forest roads. When the Forest Service analyzed the routes in the Gila, they looked at both "system" roads and "user-created" ones, and determined that many are harmful and unnecessary.

Why are they harmful? Here's a brief summary:

User-created routes are not engineered in any sense of the word, and they often "capture" streams, which escape their natural channel and instead flow down the road. Areas that used to get this water are now dry, causing plants to die, decreasing diversity and numbers of plants, which then harms wildlife.

Water flowing down these new routes causes erosion, which Larry dismissed as "erosion talk." While erosion is a natural process, it can be extremely harmful when sediment flows down roads and ends up in streams, filling in the spaces under rocks that function as habitat for macroinvertebrates at the bottom of the aquatic food chain.

Roads also make flooding worse. Before there were thousands of miles of roads in the Gila, just a few generations ago, rain and snow soaked into the ground, or ran off in thousands of small watersheds. Roads now funnel water from one watershed into another, drying up one watershed and causing huge floods in another. We'd do well to remember that, ultimately, our drinking water comes from the forest.

The Forest Service plans to allow hunters and campers to drive off road for the length of a football field on over 96,000 acres of forest. This will give traditional hunters the chance to camp, hunt and pick up their game the old-fashioned way, without having their hunt ruined by ORVs crashing through the woods.

Even though many of us are getting older, we don't all want to be able to drive all over. Let's try to protect some of the land for our kids and grandkids. They deserve a forest to hike and camp in, too.

Donna Stevens

Upper Gila Watershed Alliance

Silver City

Travel management on the Gila National Forest appears to be misunderstood by a segment of the population. The Travel Management Rule requires the Gila National Forest to change management of motorized travel to help protect resources. Changes are necessary to comply with the law and to protect clean water, wildlife, clean air, soils and others resources included on the national forests. Un-maintained roads contribute to dirty water and can threaten fish habitat and create safety hazards.

The simple truth is there is not enough money to adequately manage the Gila National Forest roads system. First, according to the Forest Service, the backlog of road maintenance is over $200 million and growing. Second, the annual budget for road maintenance is around $1 million. The cost to properly maintain the present Forest Service roads is over $5 million per year. The maintenance deficit is now about $4 million per year. This is an unsustainable situation and if nothing is done to address this problem, the public's resources will be compromised.

The mission of the US Forest Service is "caring for the land and serving people." Unfortunately, we have an excessive road system that cannot be maintained properly with the budget that exists. The only responsible option the agency has is to close roads and balance the budget. These are the hard facts of fiscal responsibility: Cut services and pay for what you can afford, or, said another way, don't live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget.

Lorenzo Trout

Silver City

As one who wishes for a reasoned and fair approach to Travel Management in the national forests, I must hope that the Forest Service does not employ the illogic and exaggeration with which Mr. Lightner's article is replete. Mr. Lightner puts forward the following specious arguments:

  1. Because a road exists it is good and fair.
  2. People who hike, backpack, horseback ride wish to be the only users of the national forests.
  3. Closing roads encourages abusive behavior, despite leaving 3,300 miles of road plus an unstated length of ATV-width trails open to continued use. (Does this not reveal a certain behavior pattern stemming from lack of respect for rules determined by fair and reasoned debate?)
  4. There is not much usable wood available along 3,300 miles of road.

I might add in closing that his story about needing to continue hunting despite injuring his back should elicit censure rather than sympathy.

Michael Scherer

Silver City



Our Makeover

Well, I almost didn't pick up this month's issue, as I didn't think it was the Desert Exposure! I'm NOT wild about the front page, but most of us don't like changes. We will get used to it.

Jim and Lin Townsend

via email




Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell recently won two third-place awards in the Society of Professional Journalists' "Top of the Rockies." The competition encompasses journalists in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Fryxell won for a collection of editorials and for "The Inside Story," the tale of his colonoscopy, in the Health Feature Writing category.





(AND WIN $$$)!


Enter the 2011 Desert Exposure Writing Contest!

Submit your best article, short story, essay, poem or other piece of writing by JULY 19.

Entries will be judged on literary quality and how well they express some aspect of life in Southwest New Mexico.

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