Well, Arizona hunting message boards went crazy yesterday and today over HB2072, proposed legislation affecting the sale of hunting tags. You can read the proposed legislation here: Proposed Legislation.

I think many Arizona hunters were taken aback by this proposed legislation, which by all accounts was engineered by Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, which is primarily a lobbying group charged with defending the interests of hunters and fishermen in Arizona. By most measures, it seems they have done some good things in Arizona – although a similarly named group in Utah seems viewed with some suspicion. When AZSFW first came to Arizona, they appeared to face scrutiny based on peoples’ experience with the Utah group.

I think the biggest thing that riled people up about this proposal was the secrecy. It was tabled as emergency legislation. In spite of the fact that AZSFW claims to represent the interests of Arizona outdoors enthusiasts, nary a soul had heard anything about this. The conservation groups didn’t know about it. The AZGFD Commission seemed to be caught off-guard. Why wouldn’t the bill sponsor or AZSFW have solicited input from the hunting public or at least the conservation groups like the Arizona Elk Society or the Arizona Deer Association? Having some or all of these groups on board would have generated a lot of support for this bill. Especially if this legislation was “good for the hunters and the wildlife”, why was the legislation handled this way?

I received this mailing from the Arizona Elk Society:

January 9, 2012

Arizona Elk Society Members:

Over the weekend, I received a copy of a bill that has the potential to have a profound impact on the Arizona Elk Society and other wildlife organizations in the state. This bill, HB 2072, proposes to allocate approximately 350 big game tags to a single wildlife conservation organization for auction and raffle. The way the legislation is drafted, it appears as if the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation is the only organization that would currently qualify to enter into this program with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. If you read the bill that I sent, there will be three classifications of tags provided by the Department including Governor’s Tags, Legislator’s Tags, and Sportsmen Tags. When and by what method these tags can be used is prescribed in the bill.

This bill was supposed to be modeled after the bill that was passed in Utah and has been successful in providing tremendous amounts of money for wildlife conservation programs in Utah, however, I believe that there are some substantive issues that I would like to bring to your attention.

These issues are:

Utah’s program has been successful at generating considerable funding for wildlife and habitat conservation but its success has largely been the result of the inclusive approach taken where all organizations share in the benefits of this program and in deciding the direction the program will take. HB 2072 is anything but inclusive and in fact is written to benefit a single organization in Arizona. This approach ignores the decades of collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Community and resource management agencies in Arizona.

The language allows for all of the cost of the putting on the annual Expo and subsequent county Banquets, to be paid for out of the proceeds from the raffle/auction of the tags without any limit or oversight. Conceivably, 100% of the proceeds could be eaten up by costs for putting on the Expo and banquets. Also, there are six purposes for which the proceeds from tag sales could be used for and the cost of administering this portion of the program could also be paid from tag proceeds without limit or guidelines.

In contrast, the Utah program requires that only 10% of the Sportsmen Tag Proceeds can be used to cover administrative costs, and 90% has to go for conservation purposes coordinated between the WCO’s and the Game and Fish. On the Expo tag side of the Utah model there is provisions for the money to be used for Wildlife Conservation Purposes and attracting a regional or national wildlife convention to the state. The parameters of the Utah Convention Permits are very strict. They must be raffled off and you cannot charge more than $5 per raffle ticket. The tags used for the Expo are only good for a hunt for the designated species on the designated unit during the respective season.

There is nothing in the language of this bill that would require the contracting organization with providing tags to the other, existing organizations in the state such as the AES or ADBSS. Further, sharing of proceeds from the auction/raffle of these funds is solely at the discretion of the contracting organization. In contrast, the Utah program shares tags for auction/raffle with other wildlife conservation organizations and every organization benefits.

In looking at the six items for which money can be spent, one allows for using funds to acquire access across private lands to public lands. This narrow focus doesn’t facilitate access ON private lands or to State Trust Lands. As written, it doesn’t allow for such things as using these funds for implementing conservation easements or other tools to help gain access to lands that are unavailable for hunters and anglers to use.

A second issue is that one of the provisions is to protect the hunting heritage, which can be easily interpreted to include filing lawsuits, promoting propositions, or even lobbying at the contracting organizations discretion. Is this what we want tag funds to be used for?

Finally, the approach in HB 2072 allows for the contracting organization to have sole discretion for the expenditure of funds generated from tags to hunt wildlife without oversight from the Department or in partnership with other organizations. Again, the partnerships that have been developed between the Department and conservation organizations may be a thing of the past if this bill passes.

So what do we need to do?
1. Read the bill and decide what position you think is appropriate on the bill.
2. Express you opinion in writing, on the phone or via email to the sponsor of the bill at the following:
Jerry Weiers
[email protected]
(602) 926-5894

If you are interested in reading the bill itself, it can be found at:
www.azleg.gov/DocumentsForBill.asp?Bill_Number=HB2072&Session_ID=107. Once at this website, click on the show versions tag and you will have access to the bill as introduced.

Again, this bill has the potential to adversely affect most of the wildlife conservation organizations in Arizona and to benefit one. Take the time to read this bill and decide on what you think of the bill and let Mr. Weiers know your opinion. Time is of the essence as this bill is scheduled for hearing on Wed., January 11, 2012 and we need to be heard.

The Arizona Elk Society Board of Directors opposes this legislation.

Sincerely,

Steve Clark, President
Arizona Elk Society

I wrote to my legislators and also 3 commission members voicing my opposition to this bill. It seems many other Arizonans did the same. By day’s end I had received this from the Game and Fish Commission:

Arizona Game and Fish Commission votes to oppose HB 2072 (sale of big game tags)
Jan. 10, 2012

PHOENIX – The Arizona Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously today (Jan. 10) to oppose proposed Arizona House Bill 2072, a bill that would have reserved a large number of big game tags for a “qualified organization” to resell at auction or raffle.

As part of its 5-0 vote to oppose the bill, the commission also directed its representatives to “clearly inform the sponsor and supporters of this bill that our opposition is not just to the bill as written, but to the entire concept of removing or adding any big game tags from the pool of big game tags available for the general public and transferring them to any private organization.”

In discussion leading up to the vote, several commissioners expressed strong concerns over the bill.
“We have a trust responsibility to manage wildlife for all the citizens of this state, and I see some real issues in this legislation that takes part of that away from us,” said Commission Chair Robert Woodhouse. “I think we need to speak on behalf of all citizens of this state.”

Among the concerns commissioners expressed over this particular legislation are which organizations would qualify, how money would be spent, who would benefit, and what accountability there would be over expenditures.
Commissioners pointed out that the proposed legislation differs from current law that authorizes the commission to issue a small number of big game tags to nonprofit organizations dedicated to wildlife conservation. Awarding these tags is through an open and competitive process that allows the organizations to auction or raffle those tags. All the proceeds come back to the Arizona Game and Fish Department for projects that support wildlife management.

“Public trust assets must never be diverted to benefit special interests,” said Commissioner Norm Freeman. “The language of the bill itself is fraught with problems, and the very premise should be discarded in its entirety.”
Chairman Woodhouse also made it clear during the meeting that neither the Arizona Game and Fish Commission nor the department were involved in the crafting of the bill, and this item has never been on a commission agenda.
Nine constituents representing organizations or themselves spoke in opposition to the bill. No constituents addressed the commission in the bill’s favor. Prior to today’s meeting, each commissioner had received many personal expressions of strong opposition from various members of the public.

HB 2072 was originally slated for a hearing in the House Commerce Committee on Jan. 11, but that meeting has since been delayed indefinitely.

I would encourage you to read over some of the (sometimes animated) discussions that are still going on at several message boards:

Arizona Hunting Today

Arizona Sportsmen’s Journal

The Arizona Hunter

CouesWhiteail.com Forums

I have friends that work with AZSFW. I think it is a given that they have done some good work in Arizona. That being said, I personally have always had a “hinky” feeling about them. Maybe it was all the stuff in Utah (even though they officially have no connection to that group). Maybe it is the fact that in spite of repeated attempts to interview a member of their group for this site, I have been unsuccessful. I know the Desert Rat Blog is a bit small-time, but it is interesting that I have been able to interview the likes of Ted Nugent and Brenda Valentine, but I haven’t been able to help educate my readers about a group in Arizona, pursuing the rights of Arizona Hunters. You’d think such a group would be doing everything they could to help spread the word about what they are doing, why and how. We all know what the road to hell is paved with. Regardless of the intentions of AZSFW, this was not handled well.