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Tue, Oct. 15

Guest Column | New AZGF commission chair promises to remember rural Arizonans

James Zieler, Chairman Arizona Game and Fish Commission

James Zieler, Chairman Arizona Game and Fish Commission

As the newly-appointed Chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, I want to give the people of rural Arizona a stronger voice in the conservation of wildlife. As a longtime resident of rural Arizona, I’m proud to represent all the small-town residents, farmers, ranchers and families who live throughout the less-populated areas of our state. Too often, our voices are drowned out by our big city neighbors, and it will be my goal to make sure we are all heard.

Those of us in rural Arizona are fortunate to live every day with nature’s beauty all around us. Many of us grew up with the family traditions of hunting and fishing, and we’re keeping them alive by passing our outdoor skills, knowledge and ethics on to the next generations. Hunting and fishing keep us close to the land and give us a better understanding of how humans fit into the natural scheme of things. They also are a great way to supply your family with good quality, locally-sourced, healthy food.

There are also rural Arizonans who don’t hunt or fish, but they share our love of wildlife and wild places. They appreciate the work the Arizona Game and Fish Department does to keep wildlife plentiful by improving habitat, catching poachers, keeping wildlife migration corridors open, protecting endangered and threatened species, and helping sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. They understand and agree with our mission to “conserve and protect.”

No matter which group you fall into, there’s another important aspect to hunting and fishing you might not have thought about: It’s also an economic bonanza for Arizona’s rural communities. When hunters and anglers come to rural Arizona communities, they do more than buy a burger and gas up.

Sportsmen and women also come to town to buy groceries, ammo, fishing tackle and bait. They fill tables at restaurants and beds in hotels, and visit our night spots. Their cars, boats, OHVs and trailers often need mechanical repairs, or an unfortunate injury might require a visit to our urgent care centers and hospitals. They buy maps, hire guide services, rent cabins, purchase camping gear — in general, the sporting community provides an amazing windfall of cash for rural Arizona.

In 2016, the last year for which estimates are available, hunters and anglers spent an estimated $1.2 billion on purchases related to outdoor recreation in Arizona, about twice the economic impact of Cactus League Spring Training baseball. Hunters and anglers support some 18,200 jobs, generating $699 million in salaries and wages, and $131 million in state and local taxes. Much of that money is spent in — and stays in — our rural communities. The combined revenues from hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities make recreation one of Arizona’s biggest industries ($21.2 billion annually).

We small-town Arizonans might not realize it, but that kind of economic clout makes rural communities an important driver of Arizona’s economy. I want all Arizonans to appreciate our contributions to the state’s bottom line, not just our breathtaking scenery, wide-open spaces and friendly people. Serving this year as Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman, I’ll focus on making everyone in the state appreciate our rural lifestyle as much as you and I do. With your ideas and input, we can make this a banner year for wildlife conservation, outdoor recreation and rural Arizona communities.

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