Game and Fish seeks public input at meeting on Heritage Fund wildlife areas

[Source: Karen Warnick, White Mountain Independent] – Five large wildlife management areas in Apache County are owned and operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Four of the areas are Heritage Fund sites: Becker Lake Wildlife area, Wenima Wildlife area, Sipe Wildlife area, and the Grasslands area. The fifth is the Springerville Marsh Wildlife area.

Employees of Game and Fish held a public meeting March 6 at the Eagar Town Hall for a property management review and to encourage the public to comment on the next six years of operation in the five areas.

Sandhill cranes benefit from Heritage Fund

Arizona’s winter sandhill crane population has boomed from about 4,000 in the late 1970s to more than 34,000 today, in large part because of the state’s Heritage Fund.

Money from the Heritage Fund has secured ideal habitat for the birds in southeastern Arizona. Voters created the fund in 1990 and authorized Game and Fish to use Arizona Lottery dollars to support wildlife conservation. The fund gets as much as $10 million annually. Game and Fish doesn’t get any state general fund money.

“One reason for the increasing number of cranes in the Sulfur Springs Valley is the availability of prime wetland habitat that the birds require and that the Game and Fish Department has provided,” said Mike Rabe, a migratory bird biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Cranes that used to fly south to Mexico now stop in Arizona because of those habitats.”

The impressive increase in sandhill cranes is good news for wildlife enthusiasts. Seeing hundreds or even thousands of cranes take to the skies, feed in the fields or come in to land is a thrilling sight. Adult sandhill cranes can have wingspans of 6-7 feet and stand five feet tall.

The Heritage Fund’s direct impact on wildlife conservation is compounded by the economic benefit that wildlife viewing has on communities across the state, especially in rural areas.

The city of Willcox estimates that $60,000 to $80,000 comes into the local economy from hotel, gas, restaurant, and other related purchases just during Wings over Willcox, an annual four-day bird viewing event. Two state wildlife areas – the Willcox Playa Wildlife Area near Willcox and the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near Douglas – offer visitors good viewing facilities, including bathrooms.

The Wings Over Willcox website at Wingsoverwillcox.com features maps of viewing sites and all kinds of information about sandhill cranes. The cranes migrate to southeastern Arizona in September and stay as late as March, with most of the birds present between November and February, according to the Wings Over Willcox site.

Sandhill crane viewing tips:

• The best viewing time is at first and last light when the cranes head out to feed, although it is possible to see them throughout the day during winter.

• Listen for the birds: They are very vocal and can often be heard before they are seen.

• Don’t forget your binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras and bird field guides.

For more information on wildlife viewing opportunities in the state, visit ww.azgfd.gov/wildlife.

For more information on the Heritage Fund and other state wildlife conservation programs, go online to azgfd.gov/w_c.

Lynx, Verde sites close for bald eagles

[Daily Courier, 12/2/2011] Twenty-one sites on Arizona’s public lands are temporarily closing this month to protect bald eagle nesting sites. A portion of Lynx Lake and its eastern shoreline on the Prescott National Forest closed to the public Thursday and could remain closed as late as June 30. Six areas along the Verde River also closed Thursday and will stay closed as late as June 15.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
A bald eagle sits in a pine tree above Lynx Lake in this Daily Courier file photo.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
A bald eagle sits in a pine tree above Lynx Lake in this Daily Courier file photo.

They include the Verde near Chasm Creek on the Prescott National Forest, and the river below Sycamore Canyon on the Coconino National Forest. People still can float through, but no foot or vehicle traffic is allowed. Aircraft also should stay at least 2,000 feet above the Verde and Salt river drainages, as well as Lake Pleasant and Alamo Lake.

“Bald eagles continue to do well in Arizona, but they are sensitive to human activity during the breeding season and it can take as little as 30 minutes of leaving the eggs uncovered for a breeding attempt to fail,” said Kenneth Jacobson, head of the Arizona Game and Fish Department Bald Eagle Management Program. “Cooperation from outdoor recreationists during the breeding season has been a major reason that the population continues to grow.” The bald eagle was federally listed as an endangered species in 1978. Nationally, the birds recovered enough to be removed from the list in 2007.

In December, Arizona bald eagles begin rebuilding nests in preparation for laying eggs. Bald eagles nest, forage and roost at the rivers and lakes that have become some of Arizona’s most popular recreation spots, and this time of year can be challenging for the birds. Game and Fish’s bald eagle management efforts are supported by the Heritage Fund, an initiative approved by voters 20 years ago to provide for wildlife education and conservation through Arizona lottery ticket sales.

People visiting bald eagle country can make an advance call to the local land management agency (Forest Service or BLM, etc.) or the Arizona Game and Fish Department to help them plan their trip to avoid disturbing bald eagles.

By following these simple guidelines, the public can help ensure that the state’s living wildlife legacy will last for generations to come:
• Enjoy bald eagles from outside the closures, especially during critical nesting times (December to June). These areas are posted with signs and/or buoys, and many have daily NestWatch monitors. A few good places to see bald eagles without disturbing them (during December and January) are at Lake Mary and Mormon Lake near Flagstaff, or on the Verde River Canyon Train in Clarkdale.
• Bald eagles protecting an active nest will let you know if you are too close. If a bald eagle is vocalizing and circling the area frantically, you are too close and need to leave the area quickly. Bald eagles incubating eggs or brooding small young should never be off the nest for more than 15 minutes.
• Help from anglers is especially needed. Monofilament and tackle has killed two nestlings and has been found in two-thirds of all bald eagle nests in the state. Every year, biologists remove this potentially lethal material from nests and/or entangled nestlings. Ospreys, shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds also succumb to this litter. Do not discard any type of monofilament along rivers and lakes, but recycle it at fishing stores. Keep your monofilament fresh; do not use old brittle line. Make sure to use the correct test line for the fish you are trying to catch. Also, do not cut the line when an undesirable fish is caught and return it to the water with the hook and line attached.

The public can help bald eagle research and recovery efforts by reporting any harassment or shooting of bald eagles. Call the Arizona Game and Fish Operation Game Thief Hotline at 1-800-352-0700 or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement at 480- 967-7900.

Grants could help Verde River at Clarkdale Arizona project

[Source: Philip Wright, Verde Independent] – When the Town Council meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday, it will consider a request by staff to go after two grants from the Heritage Fund of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The process would begin with two pre-applications for two lottery funded grants for Urban Wildlife and for Public Access.

A report prepared by Jodie Filardo, director of development and project manager for Sustainable Clarkdale, explains that the state has $112,500 available for Urban Wildlife and $50,000 for Public Access grants. “Our Verde River @ Clarkdale project aligns well with two specific granting focus areas: Urban Wildlife and Public Access,” Filardo stated. Filardo further explains that Melody Reifsnyder of Sage Consulting will put together the grant applications for the town.

“She is being funded on a fee-for-service basis from Walton Family Foundation grant funds established to hire professional services to write two separate pre-applications,” Filardo stated. If the grant applications are approved, Reifsnyder also will complete the full applications process for the town.

In a related matter, Mayor Doug Von Gausig has sponsored an agenda item calling for the council to consider approving Resolution 1376. That resolution would support The Verde Compact, a statement confirming dedication to the well-being of the Verde River and Valley. In a staff report on the item, Kathy Bainbridge, Town Clerk and Finance Director, stated that the Verde Compact “…has been endorsed by The Nature Conservancy and more endorsements have been pledged from other environmental organizations.” John Neville, president of Sustainable Arizona, will make a presentation regarding the Value the Verde Ecotourism Initiative.