Viewpoint: Cut to Arizona state parks a cut at state’s voters

This December photo of San Xavier Mission shows completed restoration work on tower at left. Funding to restore tower at right has been elminated as part of the Legislature's effort to balance the state budget. (Photo: Rene Brachmonte, Tucson Citizen)

[Source: Anne T. Denogean, Tucson Citizen] — When state legislators cut Arizona State Parks funding as part of balancing the current fiscal year budget, they left nothing untouched.  The $26.3 million cut included a sweep of $4.9 million from the Heritage Fund, which, as its name implies, supports the heritage, history, and culture of Arizona.

Defunding state parks is bad enough, but in raiding the Heritage Fund, the Legislature gave the middle finger to Arizona voters.  Those voters created the fund in 1990, ordering that up to $20 million from the sale of lottery tickets be divided each year between the state park system and the Arizona Game & Fish Department.  The funds provide grants for projects to conserve our natural and wildlife resources.  They are used for historic preservation projects, for building and maintaining trails and for acquiring land for open space or outdoor recreation facilities.

Despite public support for the fund, legislators have been looking for ways to raid it since its inception, said Beth Woodin, president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance.  The nonprofit alliance formed in 1992 to protect the fund has helped fight off more than 30 previous attempts by legislators to pillage it.  Only once, in 2003, did the Legislature follow through with plans to take $10 million in Heritage Fund money from Game & Fish.

Woodin said just about every city and town in Arizona has benefited from the grants.  “The Heritage Fund represents education.  It’s a form of education about historic monuments, about wildlife, about habitats… To take that away is like taking away the foundation,” Woodin said.

Early this week, state park grant coordinators sent letters telling grant recipients not to spend the money that’s been awarded. Linda Mayro, Pima County cultural resources manager, said in excess of $1.5 million in Heritage Fund grants for projects countywide will be lost.  The Pascua Yaqui tribe had been awarded $430,500 to develop Pascua Yaqui Park.  Pima County is losing $59,700 it would have used to restore the historical Ajo Immaculate Conception Church.  The nonprofit Patronato San Xavier lost the $150,000 it had been counting on to start restoration of the east tower of San Xavier Mission.

The red-meat Republicans who dominate the Legislature may think they’re quite clever in sweeping this fund, thus avoiding cutting the budget elsewhere or raising taxes.  But it’s just another of their penny wise, pound foolish decisions and a poke in the eye to voters who told them two decades ago to keep their grubby hands off this money.

These projects often provide jobs, bring in matching federal and private grant money, and improve the assets that draw tourists to Arizona.  “These are our best amenities and it’s such a disinvestment to take this Heritage Fund away,” Mayro said.

Bill Meek, president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, said chronic underfunding of capital needs is destroying our state parks.  “The state parks are a mess… What the customers don’t see very much of is the erosion that’s going on behind the scenes,” he said.  “They don’t see the wastewater systems that are being condemned by DEQ in almost every park in the state. They don’t see the walls that are about to fall down or did just fall down… because those things are sort of hidden from them.”

Legislative leadership has insisted that the budget must be hatcheted to address the state’s deficit, while ruling without any discussion of most alternatives, including — yes, I’ll say it — new taxes.  The deficit is daunting and deep cuts are unavoidable. But make no mistake about it, it’s the Legislature’s choice to swing the ax and let the parts fall where they may.  History, culture, and education be damned.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Game and Fish panel reaffirms commitment to wild wolves in Arizona

[Source: Arizona Capitol Times, Bill Coates] – – The Arizona Game and Fish Commission voted to continue supporting the state’s role in managing the Mexican wolf-recovery program, which has cost some $18 million since its inception 26 years ago.

“We absolutely appreciate how expensive this program is,” Terry Johnson, the Game and Fish Department’s endangered species coordinator, told the commission in a presentation covering the history of the wolf reintroduction and recovery program. Arizona has borne some $4.6 million of that cost – about half of the state’s share coming from federal funds. New Mexico, a partner in the wolf-recovery effort, has paid a tenth of that toward wolf recovery – some $540,000.

Reintroducing a predator that was wiped out in Arizona has long been a matter of working with people as much as wolves. Environmental groups and ranchers have often clashed over the program’s management. The wolf’s recovery area is largely in public lands open to grazing.
The program is run under the umbrella of the Active Management Oversight Committee, which includes Arizona, New Mexico, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Wildlife Services and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Discussion prior to the Oct. 10 vote touched on trying to get New Mexico to contribute more toward the program, but a speaker told the panel that that state was hampered by a lack of funding sources. “New Mexico does not have all the non-game funding we have,” Stephanie Nichols-Young, president of the Animal Defense League of Arizona, told the commission. Arizona has the Heritage Fund and other revenue sources for endangered species and other wildlife. That money can be leveraged to bring in more federal dollars as well. With wolf recovery, some of the money is used to make sure game and wildlife officials are available to respond to complaints about wolf attacks on livestock. But ranchers say that is not enough.

Greenlee County Supervisor Chairman Hector Rueda told the commissioners: “We currently believe the program is under-funded.” He added the program – as it’s being run – was headed toward failure. Doc Lane, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, echoed Rueda’s statements. Among other things, ranchers want federal compensation for wolf depredation of livestock. The commission voted to pursue such funding.

In a phone interview, however, Sandy Bahr of the state Sierra Club chapter, said ranchers shouldn’t be compensated for “being bad stewards.” She cited incidents of depredation on cattle grazing in areas we they are not permitted. Bahr also spoke to the commission prior to the vote. At the meeting, Rueda objected to lifting a rule that currently confines wolves to a defined area within the Blue Range of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Wolves found outside that area are relocated. Bahr, however, told commissioners: “We don’t support having artificial boundaries in place.”

In a prepared statement on the vote, the commission said it recognized the Mexican gray wolf as a “component of a larger ‘metapopulation.'” It went on to state that creating this larger population – presumably by allowing the wolves to go outside the current recovery boundaries – would go toward creating a self-sustaining population. The objective has been to achieve a population of at least 100 wolves in the wild. But the population has rarely risen above 60. There are an estimated 50 wolves now.

Johnson said the department will have a more precise figure after the end-of-the-year count. Among other things, that will involve tracking wolves wearing radio collars from aircraft using radio telemetry. “We need to grow this wolf population,” Johnson told the panel.

In its vote, the commission – among other things – directed the agency to increase the genetic diversity of the wolf population. All of the wolves come from three genetic lines established through five original wolves from Mexico. The five-member commission met in the spacious auditorium at its new headquarters on the Carefree Highway in north Phoenix.

Fishing for roundtail chubs at Fossil Creek in northern Arizona

[Source: DeWayne Smith, Special for the Arizona Republic] — How many Verde trout have you caught lately?  No, we’re not talking about rainbow trout in the Verde River that drains into Horseshoe and Bartlett lakes in central Arizona.  We’re talking about the roundtail chub (taxonomically known as Gila robusta and more informally as the Verde trout) that can be found in perennial streams and rivers throughout the state, including the Verde River where there is a somewhat formidable population.  Yes, they are legal to catch and currently the limit is one fish measuring 13 inches or longer.

Roundtails are also found in Fossil Creek, the recently returned-to-nature stream that flows out from under the Mogollon Rim southwest of Strawberry.  And if the Arizona Game and Fish Department has its way, a stretch of the creek will become the state’s latest put and take fishery that will only be available to anglers during winter months.  That is one of seven proposals Kirk Young, state fisheries chief, is talking around during a series of public meetings prior to a formal proposal before the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in October.  “Since the reclamation of the stream, parts of it have a lot of roundtails in it and the fish are not fully established in other parts,” said Young of the chub which can get as large as 3 pounds.  [Note: to read the full article, click here.]