Twenty years ago, Arizona residents voted almost two to one to create the Heritage Fund, showing a “huge groundswell of grassroots support” from a “broad base of different groups” according to Lynda Lambert, Public Information Officer for Arizona Game and Fish Department. What’s not to like? The Heritage Fund benefits native wildlife and habitats, it benefits rural communities, and it benefits anyone who loves the outdoors — all at no cost to the taxpayers.
The Heritage Fund is supported entirely by sales of Arizona Lottery tickets, and the Fund allows the Arizona Game and Fish Department to effectively operate a number of their programs and projects. In addition, the Fund is matched with federal dollars, which creates a statewide impact, helping not only the wildlife itself, but also helping the state economy. It is particularly an asset to rural communities, where the Fund has helped purchase land, restore habitat and create public access areas which draw hunters, anglers, hikers and birdwatchers. In fact, the Heritage Fund has been responsible for opening two million acres for public access in Arizona.
The Heritage Fund also supports environmental education, reaching out to almost 40,000 fourth graders annually. The Fund has given 640 grants that have gone toward projects such as creating schoolyard wildlife habitats and funding school outings so that students are able to directly experience the impacts of invasive species such as crayfish.
The Heritage Fund has also helped with bald eagle management. Lambert noted that the state has gone from 11 pairs of bald eagles in teh 1970s to 52 nesting pairs today. Part of the reason for their numbers increasing is undoubtedly due to DDT being banned, but the Heritage Fund has also played a role in their comeback, establishing a program in which teams of seasonal field employees monitor the nesting sites, estimating when the eggs hatch and intervening in cases in which babies have fallen. The teams also help educate the public, ensuring that seasonal closures are respected and explaining to hikers and boaters the reason for the closures.
The Heritage Fund has also been integral in assisting with reintroduction projects such as bringing the black-footed ferret, California condors and black-tailed prairie dogs back to their native habitat. The Fund also supports habitat restoration efforts which help all the native species in those areas, not just one reintroduced species, since a healthy habitat for a black-footed ferret is also going to tend to be a healthy environment for other native plants and animals. And, Lambert noted, “Arizona has the highest