Sportsmen raise more than $540,000 for conservation

PHOENIX - The 2009 Arizona Big Game Super Raffle sold a total of 34,614 raffle tickets, raising a near record $591,465. Of the dollars raised, more than $540,000 will go to directly benefit Arizona's wildlife.

Eleven winners were selected on July 18 to receive the 10 special big-game tags and one unbelievable Swarovski optics package. Swarovski covered the cost of administrating the raffle. "The success of this raffle is a testament to what can be accomplished when organizations work collaboratively to improve Arizona's wildlife populations and habitats for game and non-game species," said Director Larry Voyles of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "The real winners of this raffle are the citizens of Arizona. Through the dedication of concerned hunters and sportsmen, all Arizonans can continue to enjoy the state's full complement of diverse wildlife for generations to come."

Since the raffle's inception in 2006, every dollar raised is returned to the Game and Fish Department. Management of the dollars and projects approved is through the cooperation of the Arizona Habitat Partnership Committee. Input from 12 statewide habitat partners and the organizations involved in the fundraising collectively determine which projects will provide the most benefit to each species represented.

Funding from the raffle allows for a multitude of wildlife conservation projects. For 2009, more than 50 projects were approved.

One primary focus is the development, maintenance and improvements of water catchments to provide reliable water sources for wildlife during drought years. A number of grassland restoration and antelope-friendly fence improvement projects are scheduled.

Also, other funded projects assist in wildlife management through helicopter surveys, translocation of wildlife and the monitoring of wildlife movements to map connectivity issues. Some of the most notable projects are land acquisitions to conserve critical habitat for the future of wildlife. Many of the projects are matched with other funding sources, labor or supplied materials, leveraging every dollar spent even further.

"This program is just another example of how sportsmen continue to dedicate their time and money for the benefit of wildlife," added Voyles. "It amazes me what a relatively small group of the population can accomplish - just think of what we could accomplish with even greater participation."

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission grants the tags that are raffled off as Special Big Game Tags. The tags are publicly awarded to soliciting organizations each year. The big-game tags raffled included one each for pronghorn antelope, black bear, buffalo, Coues whitetail, desert bighorn sheep, elk, javelina, mountain lion, mule deer and turkey.

The uniqueness of these special tags is that the hunting season is year-round, but with the same wildlife conservation restrictions applied to other permit-holders. It allows tag winners the time to pursue a trophy animal, many of which can only be found in the Southwest and some only in Arizona, particularly the Gould's wild turkey, bighorn sheep, Coues whitetail deer and the world-famous Kaibab mule deer.

So, the next time you see a highway underpass allowing elk to move safely near the Mogollon Rim, or an antelope ducking under a fence in the open plains of Prescott, or if you're fortunate to spot a desert bighorn sheep peering down from a cliff after watering in the arid desert, remember to think of hunters as conservationists.

The majority of wildlife conservation is made possible by funding generated from the sale of hunting licenses, hunt permit-tags and matching funds from federal excise taxes hunters pay on guns, ammunition and related equipment and not from the state's general fund.