Our voices will be heard

Despite opposition from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, SB1200 passed both the Arizona Senate and Arizona House of Representatives and it is now headed to Gov. Brewer's desk, where she is expected to sign this historic legislation.

Here is what the legislation will do when implemented into law:

There will be a five-member Commission Recommendation Board appointed by the governor and comprised of three sportsmen representatives, one member from the cattle/ranching community and one public member at large or from a non-game organization.

Their duties and/or responsibilities will be to assist the governor in identifying prospective commission candidates. They will conduct a forum where the public can meet commission candidates. The board will review the applications of all applicants and make a recommendation to the governor, but the final choice falls to her.

The board may also make recommendations to the Legislature on commission qualifications. The legislation also establishes terms of office for initial appointees and five-year terms for subsequent members. It does establish that board members must be residents of the state for at least five years prior to being appointed and allows the governor to remove a board member for cause.

Just for the record, our state senator, Ron Gould, voted to support the legislation as did Representatives Doris Goodale and Nancy McLain. The legislation was also endorsed by the Mohave Sportsman Club, Mohave County's largest outdoor recreational club.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weirs, who has a long-standing record of being a sportsman's advocate. Besides sportsman's groups from all over Arizona, another major supporter of the legislation was the National Rifle Association.

According to Art Pearce, legislative affairs chairman for the Arizona Sportsmen For Wildlife Council, who led the charge to get the legislation passed, "Unlike any other state agency, the Arizona Game and Fish Department does not receive general fund dollars. The majority of funding (approximately 72 percent) for the AZGFD is derived from sportsmen license fees, hunt tags, watercraft license fees and excise taxes on ammunition, hunting and fishing equipment and other federal matching funds.

"In addition, sportsmen provide millions of dollars annually through fundraising efforts and manpower for conservation projects.

"Hunter and anglers are the most critical and proven wildlife management tools employed by the AZGFD. Through their many contributions to management of Arizona's wildlife and their financial underwriting of the AZGFD, sportsmen have a vested interest in decisions made by the Game and Fish Commission and have proportional representation to the commission selection process. Members of the public at large also make a contribution to AZGFD through their purchase of lottery tickets and participation in Indian Gaming activities, a source of revenue for the Heritage and Wildlife Conservation Fund."

Of course, the battle is not over yet. A number of groups including the Animal Defense League of Arizona, Center for Biological Diversity, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, just to name a few, are going to try and persuade Brewer to veto the legislation.

Also trying to stop the bill are three of the current five members of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, all past appointees of former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Brewer's two most recent appointees to the commission voted to support the legislation.

Wildlife in Arizona is in fact owned by all of the citizens of the state including non-hunters. While there is no question they should have a voice in the selection process, it also doesn't mean they should be able to dictate how wildlife management will be conducted. This board has the authority to make a recommendation to the governor. He/she will still have the final say on who is appointed.

But sportsmen like you and me, the ones who put up the money and get dirty working on habitat improvement projects for game and non-game alike, will have an admittedly greater voice in the process of choosing those who serve on the commission and manages the state's wildlife, which is arguably the state's greatest natural resource.

And considering some of the past commissioners that we have seen, this legislation seems like a breath of fresh air for sportsmen throughout the state.

If you want to weigh in on this issue, you can call the Governor's Office at (800) 253-0883 or send in a comment by e-mail to Gov. Jan Brewer at www.azgovernor.gov/contact.asp.