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home : features : nature May 23, 2016

1/16/2013 6:01:00 AM
Big changes pending at Boquillas Ranch
DON MARTIN/Special to the Miner
With the possibility of access fees being charged to sportsmen on the Boquillas Ranch, the Mohave Sportsman Club may not vote to continue to hold the cleanup effort, which was started over 21 years ago.
DON MARTIN/Special to the Miner
With the possibility of access fees being charged to sportsmen on the Boquillas Ranch, the Mohave Sportsman Club may not vote to continue to hold the cleanup effort, which was started over 21 years ago.

Don Martin
The Great Outdoors

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled Tom Finley's name and provided an incorrect email address for him.

I've said it many, many times before in past articles I've written in the Miner about sportsmen and the almost unfettered access they have enjoyed on the Boquillas Ranch. And I hate to point my finger at some of my friends and say, "I told you so," but guess what? It finally looks like it is going to happen.

It is like a tsunami on the horizon.

It's coming, and it appears that barring some kind of major meltdown, there's nothing much that can happen to stop changes to future hunter access on the 750,000-acre Boquillas Ranch in Unit 10.

What is going to bring about this change is outlined in a 13-page Arizona Game and Fish Department document entitled "Cooperative Stewardship Agreement For Recreational Access."

I had learned from various sources that for some time the department was actively working on an agreement with the Navajo Nation, which owns the almost 500,000 acres of privately deeded lands within the ranch boundaries. Discussions were also held with the Cholla Land and Cattle Co., which currently leases the ranch from the Navajo Nation and runs the livestock operation there.

Then I learned there was an item on the agenda for the Jan. 11 Game and Fish Commission meeting which addressed a written proposal and a Power Point presentation to the commission about the access proposal.

To my knowledge, that is the first time the information on the proposal became public.

Some sweeping changes were being proposed by Game and Fish. I spoke with Region 3 Supervisor Tom Finley at the Game and Fish awards banquet last Saturday night and requested a meeting with him on Monday to go over the document.

When I got it, I was shocked at what I was reading and had many questions for Finley.

Our two-hour-plus conversation was cordial and pleasant and the longtime departmental employee was very open and honest when it came to answering the questions I asked.

Finley told me a lot of history about the access issues on the Boquillas Ranch, some of which I did not know.

For instance, did you know that there has not been a signed access agreement between the Navajo Nation and the department regarding access on the ranch for many years?

"Each year we just kind of held our breath and hoped that things would stay the same," Finley said.

Finley pointed out that in the past, the department had conducted projects on the Boquillas to help mitigate issues caused by wildlife and/or sportsmen, including grading ranch roads using department equipment, funding for cleaning out stock tanks, habitat improvement projects, placing informational signs on ranch access points and patrolling the vast ranch during hunts. There was also a sign in/sign out system put in place to see who was utilizing the ranch.

And let's not forget how the Mohave Sportsman Club held an annual ranch cleanup up out there for 21 years.

But despite all of that, it finally came to the point where the Navajo Nation said it was going to close down the ranch.

"I got a call last fall from an official with the Navajo Nation and was told that the tribe intended to close down the ranch to hunters effective Jan. 1, 2013," Finley said. He noted that as private landowners, the Navajo Nation controls access and has the authority to close the ranch.

But the call came with an offer for Game and Fish to meet with tribal officials and the Cholla Land and Cattle Co. Once more, all the parties involved would sit down at the table and Game and Fish would try and write up an agreement that would continue to allow sportsmen access to the ranch.

Finley said he was assigned to write up the proposal by Game and Fish Director Larry Voyles and Deputy Director Gary Hovatter.

"It has been a challenge, for sure," Finley said. "I feel like I have a big bull's-eye on my chest."

Finley noted several times that sportsmen need to understand that the document has not been signed by all the parties and is actually going through a third revision at this time.

And Finley noted that the bottom line is that the Navajo Nation could legally, at any time, close the ranch to hunter access: "They are already empowered to do what they want as far as access on their private property is concerned."

Despite all those admonitions, I think it is going to be a done deal.

So let me get right to point and list some of the things that may be of interest to you as a sportsman who wants to hunt on the Boquillas.

Remember, this information is off the draft that was presented to the commission. And as Finley noted, there are other revisions that already have been made. So some of these actions may be subject to change.

First of all, the ranch is going to start charging what is called a Recreational Impact Fee of $60 for a recreational user over 18 years of age. The fee for guides is $200. I should note here that these permits are for each hunt.

So if a sportsman has drawn two big game tags and wants to hunt on the Boquillas both times, they will have to pay for two separate RIF fees.

Anyone who helps or assists on big game hunts will also have to pay the $60 RIF fee. There are a number of exceptions to this, especially when it comes to youth hunts and disabled hunters.

The proposal contains 26 ranch rules. I don't have enough room here to list them all.

Here are a few. The ranch will not be open year-round. Rule 5 of the 2013 Ranch Rules state: "Access by Recreational Users to the Big Boquillas Ranch will open 10 days prior to the archery-only pronghorn hunt opening date (late August). Access before that date is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch, unless otherwise expressly authorized in writing by the Lessee."

Under Rule 6, "Access by Recreational Users to the Big Boquillas Ranch will close five days after the conclusion of the December antlerless elk hunt. Access after that date is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch, unless otherwise expressly authorized in writing by the Lessee."

That means no January archery deer or javelina hunts. There will be no general javelina hunts in February or spring turkey hunts on the ranch. The ranch will not be open for prairie dog hunting in the summer. Organized predator hunts may be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Here are just a few of the other ranch rules that may be in force this year.

Under Rule 14, "The use of trail cameras, scouting cameras or any other automated remote device camera systems is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch."

Rule 15 states, "The construction of or use of blinds or tree stands (commercial or otherwise) is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch."

Rule 16 states, "Hunting within 100 yards of a water source is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch."

Other proposed rules state that:

"The use of any substance to attract wildlife (baiting) is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch. (rule 20)

"All spotlighting is prohibited on the Big Boquillas Ranch." (rule 25)

Now, many may feel that these rules are unreasonable. But think of the alternatives.

One is the ranch could be completely shut down to all sportsman access.

The other, which may be called "elitist," is what is going on the ORO Ranch right now. In that situation you must call the guide (Chad Smith) who controls access to the ranch, and you must pay fees according to what you have a tag for.

Those fees are not chump change, especially for elk. I was told that fees from $8,000 to $10,000 for elk seem to be the going rate there.

The same thing also happens closer to Kingman on the X Bar One Ranch in Unit 18A. Again, you have to contact the ranch owners and pay fees, depending on what tag you have drawn.

At this point there are many, many more questions that are going to have to be answered for sportsmen who I feel aren't going to particularly embrace this proposal. In the end, I bet after all the whining and griping by sportsmen, they'll pay the fees and continue to hunt out there.

I've suggested to Finley that some kind of public outreach should be done to let sportsmen know why this has all been proposed.

Times have changed and so have the rules for access on large blocks of private lands.

Wildlife and sportsmen no doubt cause an increase in ranch operations. The Cholla Land & Cattle Co. says they spend $500,000 annually in maintenance on the Boquillas. However, there is no way that all of that can be attributed to wildlife and/or sportsmen.

But it may be reasonable that a private landowner can obtain some compensation - and I don't mean landowner tags - for allowing access on their lands.

Right now, sportsmen from all over the nation are applying for antelope and elk tags in Arizona and in Unit 10. There are almost 2,500 elk tags proposed for Unit 10, and 145 antelope tags.

Know that if you apply for any of those tags and draw them, there is a very good chance that at least some and maybe all of the rules outlined here are going to apply.

If you want a copy of the original document, it is a public record and Region 3 should provide it for you.

If you have concerns, questions, or suggestions, contact Finley at

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Article comment by: Paul Gregan

If the wildlife is property of the State of Arizona, how does OBO Ranch get away with charging big money to take an elk? And how can we be stopped from accessing State trust Land by a private land lessee?

Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Drexler

Maybe it's time that we all wake and respect one another. How many times have you stopped to pick up someone elses trash while out hunting?
Many many times have you seen people driving where they shouldn't? I have stopped other hunters who have no regard for the land or other hunters, or even care that they are destroying this prime land. It's only fitting that they charge an access fee. I for one welcome the access fee, as it may reduce the number of people of unethical people on the ranch that are only concerned with themselves.

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Article comment by: Darrin Lowe

how quick you people are to judge when you only have some of the facts and from 1 side of the story. This isnt about making money from hunters,campers Its about recouping some of the cost the ranch incurs because they allow hunters, sportsmans and outdoor enthusiast to use THEIR land. look at the big picture. This is a privately owned and privately opperated ranch.Most of this ranch is PRIVATE property. They dont have to let anybody on it if they dont want to. Cattle ranching is a business, this cattle ranch wasnt started so people could hunt and camp. Alot of this would have never come about if people would have used a litttle common sense, shown a little respect for other peoples property and followed a few simple rules implimented by the ranch. This ranch doesnt owe any of us anything. Thats the problem, alot of people think just think everybody owes them something. Buy,build and get your own cattle ranch up and working and lets see how many people you just let walk on to your private property.And yes I do have close friends who work on this ranch so I do know the whole story

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Article comment by: Live to Hunt

I am starting a petition and movement to ban rodeos from the state of AZ. Cattle are made for consumption, leather products, etc, and not for senseless and cruel games and exploitation. Did I get your attention? I am not a cowboy and have maybe 100 total hours on horseback. Just because I have no real interest in the activity, does it give me the right to support a movement that robs others of their heritage, traditions and passions. I actually have nothing against rodeos and I have total respect for and I am amazed by those tough individuals who do compete. But I have no respect for anyone who would stand and fight to keep their own traditions, heritage and passions but do not hesitate to support those who are trying to to take away the heritage and passions of others. The most ironic thing about this all is the fact that if any movement was actually made to abolish rodeos, you would find the hunters standing right beside the ladies and gentlemen of the PRCA in the fight.

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013
Article comment by: Unit 10 Hunter

Edward-For your information, I personally hunt cow elk most often--you know, without antlers? What percentage of camera sales goes to provide for Arizona wildlife? What percentage of hunting licenses, tags, and ammunition do? Most meat eaters are trophy eaters, always buying the biggest steaks or rack of ribs. I'm against that as well.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

@ Unit 10 Hunter and Life Long Unit 10 Hunter

I have no objections to people hunting for food, but most of you "licensed game hunters" hunt for trophies, which means you kill for pleasure.

Get off your tired old rationalizations and try some real hunting which calls for far more skill than a high powered rifle and scope. Hunt with a camera.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Big Unit

Is this ranch not checkered boarded with state trust land? Did not the XbarOne ranch in 18A have a court demand they open the gates on roads that were access to these same types of lands? If so I would think that sets a precedent for a law suit. We the people can change the grazing fees per each cattle on these same lands. Maybe we need to have the fee be 60.00 a head.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

Though not a big game hunter or hunter of any sort for many years....this does indeed seem like just a money issue to me. Responsible hunters contribute greatly to the game management in every state. Adding additional and seemingly high fees, would defeat the purpose it seems.

I'm amazed to read that people actually pay $8-10K to hunt on the other ranch. Seriously? That's more in line with the cost of an African safari.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Loved Unit 10

My family has hunted Unit 10 since I was little. The Ranch workers are wonderful and the people of Seligman area always welcoming. It's so sad to see a time honored tradition for hundreds of hunters families will be changed. Many hunters in these times only have the money to get tags and supplies for their outings. When we hunted the whole family came. It was once a year and we made it a sort of reunion. The grand kids are taught how to scout and track. As kids we would get excited when Game & Fish would roll through because they would actually take the time and talk with us about hunting laws etc.There are 15 of us but only 4 draw for tags the rest would enjoy the camping. So we would have to pay $900? Guess we have to find somewhere else to go.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Unit 10 Hunter

Hugh and Edward: unless both of you live Vegan lifestyles that fully embrace a life without anything (not just food) provided by animals-you need to keep quiet about hunters. I don't care if you don't participate. Have you seen how slaughterhouses operate? Does that look like a "fighting chance"? I have no problem with slaughterhouses what so ever, but by comparison, I think you have a misconception about hunting if you think it's even comparable. Sometimes just seeing a game animal is the closest you get to success, then you try again next year. This whole Unit 10 thing is driven by greed and nothing more. I hope it doesn't come to this, but I don't see myself paying an extra fee to hunt the Ranch. I think what has happened on the ORO Ranch is sick as well.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Reg Roby

We need to start cutting all federal aid to the Indian nations and let them stand on their own two feet. The gravy train should be over. BIA and BIE spend 2.9 billion dollars of our tax money annually.

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Article comment by: Life Long Unit 10 Hunter

"nice to see the navajos returning to their respect for nature"? really? if they were that concerned about nature they would not be over grazing the land with cattle for one, and two, the more restriction they impose on hunters the bigger problems they will have in controlling the elk, coyote, and prairie dog populations which will make more problems for the cattle co in the end. And Ed, licensed game hunters are the only ones allowed to hunt, how about the rule suggestions come from actual hunters/sportsmen, or at least from someone familiar with hunting, k? I was raised hunting out there, its some of the best elk hunting around for miles. I hope they can come to a better agreement then all the fees and nonsense rules, to help everybody out. I dont see why the G&F doesnt cut down on the amount of permits given out... because they have been overloading that area more and more each year.

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: Cheryl james

This article has hit close to home. I live here in Seligman and also have several people in my family that hunt but my other concern is my great lil town seligman. This will not only affect the hunter's but the business's of Seligman, we get alot of business from the hunter's who hunt on unit 10 and this will absolutely affect our town and this is not even being considered and that is not fair to our town.......

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: the almighty dollar

This isn't about respect for nature, but about making a quick buck! charging an entrance fee is crazy. For me to go camp with my husband while he is hunting will also cost me $60! if our kids come up too, thats another $60 each, Wow!

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: hugh campbell

well its about time. good for the navajos. good to see some people still care about wildlife and want to have more game instead of killing them all off. and i guess u wont need a clean up if u dont have careless sportsmen littering out there. rock on harvey and gary keep the ranch the way its supposed to be full of cowboys not hunters

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

Nice to see that the Navajos are returning to their respect for nature and are finally starting to give the animals a fighting chance. I'd like to suggest another rule: Only allow licensed game hunters one bullet or one arrow per hunt.

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