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Fri, Aug. 12

Column | AZGFD: To protect and to serve

“The Arizona Game and Fish Department is one of the best wildlife conservation organizations in the nation.”

Those aren’t my words, although I wholeheartedly agree. As a member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission for the past four years, it seems that no matter where my travels take me, or whoever I encounter along the way, people keep telling me what I’ve already known for a long time.

As the new chairman of the commission, I want more Arizonans to understand and appreciate who they have working on their behalf as the experts in science-based wildlife management, particularly when it comes to the regulatory process that ensures all wildlife is held in the public trust – the first tenet of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, founded by hunters and conservationists more than 100 years ago.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) follows a multitiered process for setting hunting season structures, hunting season dates, hunt permit-tag allocations, and other controlling elements for regulating the hunting of game animals. The Department’s big and small game programs are responsible for this task, and their mission is to protect and manage game populations and their habitats to provide wildlife-oriented recreational opportunities for current and future generations.

This process begins with hunt guidelines, which are revised every five years – and not without the encouraged and valued input of the public – for the commission’s approval. These guidelines provide the biological and social parameters that make up the “recipes” used by wildlife managers to formulate the annual hunt recommendations (season dates, hunt permit-tags allocated, etc.) in which hunters participate. The commission then approves the guidelines at its public meetings.

With the guidelines in place, and survey data in hand, wildlife managers and game specialists propose the hunt permit-tag allocations on a unit-by-unit basis, resulting in the proposed hunt recommendations. After the public comment periods, and once approved by the Commission, the recommendations are incorporated into the hunting regulations.

All of this is no simple task. In this latest review process, 24 team members logged a minimum of 3,000 hours to gather the best available science from 195 staff members – all of whom have joined the Department over the years with the required bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees in biology, wildlife management or forest-related expertise. That’s enough skill, knowledge and professionalism to reach from my home in Payson to the top of the Mogollon Rim.

I’m simply in awe of what our people do, especially when considering how AZGFD conserves and protects Arizona’s 800-plus wildlife species, while receiving no general tax funds from the state. That’s right, not one dime for on-the-ground conservation efforts. It’s important to know that the department is primarily funded by discretionary spending by outdoor recreationists who purchase hunting and fishing licenses, hunt permit-tags, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and more.

AZGFD is charged with conserving and protecting all of Arizona’s wildlife species, whether they are hunted or not. Unfortunately, wildlife agencies across the West – including ours – are being challenged by special interest groups that object to hunting. For the record, the Department supports and promotes the concept of fair chase, which is defined as the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the game animals.

Arizona’s hunters and anglers – and I proudly count myself among them – are a passionate and engaged constituency. With the future of their time-honored traditions at stake, it’s crucial now more than ever to show support for AZGFD and the people who are the leading experts when it comes to managing our wildlife resources.

(James E. Goughnour of Payson is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.)

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