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2:35 PM Wed, Dec. 12th

Commision’s ruling on trail cameras misses the mark

For the last two weeks I have written about proposals being brought forward under Article 3: Rules for taking and handling of wildlife.

This week, I will finish up by commenting on what I see as one of the most controversial proposals that the commission will vote at their meeting in Kingman May 4.

Fishing Permits for Non-Profits

In the past, fishing permits that were issued to governmental and nonprofit agencies that provided rehabilitation and treatment services for persons with disabilities required the agencies be licensed or contracted with Department of Economic Security or Department of Health Services. It also allowed only a maximum of 20 persons to fish.

Each year, the department receives approximately 100 applications for these special permits, but only about half are approved due to the restrictions placed on the applicants.

The commission is now proposing to amend the rules and remove some of the requirements to obtain a special permit.

There is no longer a requirement for a group or agency to be affiliated with DES or DHS. A nonprofit is required only to submit a copy of the agency’s articles of incorporation and a document identifying its mission at the time of application.

The amended rule also removes the 20-person limit that was previously applied to applicants who sought special fishing permits.

“The commission believes the rule with proposed amendments will continue to meet the original intent of the rule, while expanding unlicensed fishing opportunities to additional agencies, departments and nonprofits,” the commission stated.

New rule for establishing special fishing seasons and additional methods of take

In the past, when an imminent fish die-off was about to occur, the commission was deemed to not have the authority to allow for the use of special methods to remove fish. Now the rule will be amended to allow consistency between commission rules, and allow the commission to make the decision for the use of special take or methods in these situations.

Clarification of the two-pole stamp rule: When the department in 2014 overhauled the license and stamp rules, the two-pole stamp, which allowed anglers to use two poles, was eliminated. But the commission’s intent was not to disallow anglers to use two poles. The rule is proposed to be amended to state that a person may not use more than two lines at any one time while fishing. This rule will clarify and allow a consistent interpretation of simultaneous fishing.

Use of Trail Cameras

Destined to be one of the most controversial proposals in the Article 3 package, the restrictions on the use of trail cameras will be the most hotly contested, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

Trail cameras are typically put up in areas that sportsmen and others believe wildlife will congregate. While found mostly at waters, they can be put up in any location where wildlife is found, including corrals, mineral licks and trails. Trail cameras can document the time of day that wildlife visits the area.

Trail camera technology has evolved over the years. Now there are cameras which are capable of sending live images of animals to a computer miles away using satellite technology. Though very expensive, these types of cameras will be prohibited under a proposal by the department, as they relate to the “take of wildlife,” and in their opinion, the Fair Chase Hunting ethic.

Under the current proposal, the recommendation is to “(p)rohibit the use of trail cameras capable of sending a wireless remote signal to another electronic device, and the use of any trail camera within one-fourth mile of a developed water source.”

My personal opinion on this issue is that there won’t be much objection by the hunting community on banning live-action trail cameras, but the proposed quarter-mile zone from a developed water source restriction may cause a lot of discussion. The commission is stating that the use of trail cameras is a violation of the Fair Chase Hunting ethic.

The proposed rule reads, “A person shall not use any trail cameras, or the images from any trail cameras, for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife within one-fourth mile (440 yards) of the outer perimeter of a developed water source.”

The commission defines fair chase as “(t)he ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of free-ranging Arizona wildlife in a manner that does not give the hunter or angler improper or unfair advantage over such wildlife.”

“When addressing new evolving technologies and practices that may provide hunters or anglers with an improper or unfair advantage in the pursuit and taking of wildlife, or create a public perception of an improper or unfair advantage.”

The commission concluded that, “Improper advantage is a technology or practice that allows a hunter or angler to locate or take wildlife without acquiring the necessary hunting and angling skills or competency.”

The commission also defines improper advantage as a “(t)echnology or practice that allows a hunter or angler to pursue or take wildlife without being physically present and pursuing wildlife in the field.”

Finally, the commission also believes that improper advantage is the use of a “(t)echnology or practice that makes harvesting wildlife almost certain when the technology or practice prevents wildlife from eluding take.”

In the case of trail cameras and the proposed quarter-mile restriction as it compares to other technology, such as scopes which have built in technology that allows an almost certain hit on a target, I think the commission has failed to properly compare them.

Remember last week when I wrote that the department and commission stated, in regards to scopes equipped with lasers that have the ability to not only range the target, but then are actually capable of making the internal adjustment of the crosshairs to ensure that the proper hold over is there, does not violate the fair chase ethic?

But yet, the commission seems to feel that photographs of wildlife at a water source taken by a camera is a violation of the fair chase ethic. I would make this argument; I own 10 trail cameras and none are capable of sending live stream photos. And to my knowledge none of those 10 cameras have ever jumped off a pole and taken any animal they have taken photos of.

Just because you have an image of an animal drinking at a water source one day does not ensure you will take that animal. All that image tells you is at that at a particular time, that particular animal was there at that location. The animal is obviously not restrained in any manner and can go where it wants, when it wants.

Last fall, I was on the North Kaibab with a 77-year-old hunter with age-related physical infirmities.

I put out several cameras on several drinkers in a five-mile area. The camera had photos of one buck in particular that was of interest to this hunter. My first image of him was when he came into this water at 2 a.m., and with him were four does.

On Day 10, the last day of the hunt, that same buck and four does showed up on another camera four air-miles away. This time they were there at midnight.

So what did we learn? We knew that buck was somewhere in a four-mile area, but despite our best efforts, which included glassing, spot and stalk, and sitting in blinds near several waters, we never saw that deer during hunting hours.

Let me digress. When it comes to fair chase, I think allowing the use of scope on a high-powered rifle that literally does everything for the hunter but pull the trigger is way different than having a photo of an animal at a water hole in the middle of the night. But then again, this is my opinion, and I know it may be different from yours.

I also noted that under the commission’s fair chase definition (A-2.23 Fair Chase) it states, “These tradeoffs must be carefully weighed in an open-public process before determining whether a given technology or practice should be limited or prohibited in the interests of preserving Fair Chase.”

I personally think this proposed change to trail camera policy and use is driven by fear the department and commission have of the public perception of this use of technology, not whether or not that fear is justifiable for biological reasons.

Again, I urge you, the Arizona sportsman, to read and analyze these proposals. Send in your comments by April 15 and be at the commission hearing May 4.