“Work with Us, Naysayers” – Opinion by Pat Madden, Chairman, Arizona Game and Fish Commission

Source:  Arizona Central, September 11, 2016

My Turn: Listening to our critics, you’d never know we invest $6 million each89ad1681-20eb-40ea-b511-5d058eaceeb2 year in Arizona to help conserve species.  The Arizona Game and Fish Department conserves and protects the state’s diverse wildlife and promotes safe, compatible outdoor recreation. That’s our mission and we have a long history of successfully managing all 800-plus wildlife species in Arizona.

Political special-interest groups that disagree with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission’s wildlife conservation mission are complaining because we don’t buy into their political agenda.

Our message to agenda-driven ideologues: Work with us.

Listening to the critics, you wouldn’t know that the Game and Fish Commission and the Department invest more than $6 million annually into projects benefiting threatened/endangered species and other non-hunted wildlife. That’s $6 million in on-the-ground conservation, improving the lives of Arizona’s wildlife. We’ll work with any group that will lend a hand.

Here are just a few success stories

Because we collaborated with a coalition of bald-eagle advocates, Arizona’s bald eagles are now plentiful enough to have been delisted from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007.  Since delisting, the breeding population has increased by 30 percent, and the average annual fledgling count has gone from 21 in the 1990s to 55 since 2010. This year, a record 65 pairs of adult eagles produced 78 hatchlings.

Endangered Sonoran pronghorn were on the brink of disappearing from the U.S. by 2002, with only 21 remaining in southwest Arizona. Active management by Game and Fish and our partners has increased Arizona’s herd to more than 350 Sonoran pronghorn, and even more in Mexico.

In 1998, there were no Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Since then, Game and Fish has dedicated significant staff and financial resources to bring the wolf back while working to build social tolerance in local communities.  By collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, Arizona and New Mexico now host 97 known collared wolves and 18 packs, with 42 natural-born offspring last year alone.

We’ll work with anyone to save species.  We also put substantial resources into recovering native fish species with proactive conservation efforts that can reverse the need to list them as endangered. Since 2006, we’ve conducted 300 native fish stockings at 130 sites, helping 18 native species and fostering 112 new native fish populations.

California condors, on the brink of extinction by the early 1980s, now number nearly 430, more than half of which live wild in Arizona, Utah, California and Mexico. Their comeback got an assist from Arizona hunters who voluntarily use non-lead ammo in condor country.

Many other species — desert bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets, Apache trout, Gould’s turkeys, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and black-tailed prairie dogs to name a few — have benefited from collaborative on-the-ground conservation. We’ve achieved successes because we work with partners who roll up their sleeves and put boots on the ground.

The department will cooperate with any group that values and works toward on-the-ground conservation. We just have difficulty with organizations that focus their resources on rhetoric-laden fundraising letters, scare tactics and litigation. Conservation, like everything in life, only happens when you do the work.

Edward “Pat” Madden is the chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Email him at PMadden@azgfd.com.