Come learn about high country hummingbirds in the White Mountains

[Source: Bruce Sitko, The Cerbat Gem] – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is again offering a unique opportunity for people to learn more about Arizona’s colorful forest hummingbirds at the 9th annual High Country Hummers Festival. On Saturday, July 28, Sheri Williamson, one of the nation’s foremost experts on hummingbirds, will lead a capture and bird-banding event that is free and open to the public at the department’s Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area located near Eagar in eastern Arizona.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for people to get up close and personal with these flying jewels,” says Bruce Sitko, spokesman in the department’s Pinetop office. “We are quite fortunate to get Sheri, who is the author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, to come with her staff of volunteers and demonstrate her research.” This free, one-of-a-kind program will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at noon. Costs are underwritten by the department’s Heritage Fund. Supported by Arizona lottery dollars, the Heritage Fund is dedicated to the education, conservation and enhancement of Arizona’s wildlife, biological diversity, scenic wonders and environment.

Other fun programs will also be offered at the wildlife area that day. There will be educational exhibits featuring live hawks, owls and a bald eagle. You can even get your photo taken with one. Visitors can view presentations on hummingbird and eagle natural history. Department staff will lead a “birding basics” program, including identification tips, recommended field guides and technological tools available to aid in learning about our avian visitors.

People are also welcome to explore the visitor center’s interpretive displays on wildlife conservation, habitats and prehistoric culture. Breakfast and lunch concessions will be provided by the Springerville-Eagar Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We encourage visitors to come prepared to spend most of the morning outdoors with the potential of some summer rain,” says Sitko. “It’s a good idea to bring a camera, as there will be plenty of great photo opportunities. We also require that pets be kept on a leash.”

Williamson, together with her husband Tom Wood, founded and operate the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO), which is a non-profit scientific and educational organization based in Bisbee. SABO’s mission is to promote conservation of birds, their habitats and the diversity of species that share those habitats through research, monitoring and public education.

High Country Hummers is an officially designated Arizona Centennial event. To get to the wildlife area, take Highway 191 from Eagar toward Alpine 2 miles to the signed turnoff at the top of the first hill. Drive south 5 miles to the property on a gravel road suitable for cars. For more information, visit the High Country Hummers web page at www.azgfd.gov/outdoor_recreation/hummingbird.shtml.

Lawmakers must agree to help

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial, 2/4/2012] – Lawmakers: Take a hike. We mean that in the nicest possible way. You see, our elected officials have been out of step with their constituents. A few hours under a big-sky horizon or a serenade by the wind through some saguaro needles might help them get in touch with those they represent.

Arizonans responded to a recent poll with resounding support for conservation and the state parks.

Yet since 2008, lawmakers have swept $81.6 million from Arizona State Parks. They’ve cut out all state support from the general fund. In addition, the $10 million a year in Lottery money that used to go to the parks, part of the voter-approved Heritage Fund, was eliminated. Completely and permanently. Even the money that the parks raise on their own through user fees was routinely raided.

One positive move is House Bill 2362, which says revenue from park user fees, concessions and other revenue generated by the parks should be used for the parks. The bill passed a House committee unanimously this week. It’s important, but it’s not enough. The years of reduced funding have seriously impacted what the State Parks Board can do.

This does not just impact walks through magnificent landscapes or tours of historic places. The state parks were set up in the late 1950s by forward-looking lawmakers as an economic engine for rural Arizona. They spur tourism to rural communities, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. Those tourists spend in gas stations, restaurants, shops and hotels.

What’s more, Heritage Fund grants through the Arizona State Parks Board went well beyond the state system to aid cities with outdoor recreation, fund historic preservation and maintain trails throughout the state. That money is gone now. The loss will be felt statewide.

These things matter to Arizonans. They also matter to those who are measuring our state’s quality of life when looking to relocate or set up business. Arizonans get this. A recent poll showed that 87 percent of Arizonans say funding parks should be a priority — even in tough economic times. The “State of the Rockies” report released this week also found that 78 percent of Arizonans think environmental stewardship and a healthy economy are compatible. Pitting one against the other is obsolete.

State lawmakers faced tough budget decisions in recent years. But Arizonans clearly do not want cuts to the state parks to be permanent. This poll, released by the Colorado College, was conducted by two polling firms, one that primarily does work for Republicans and another that usually works for Democrats.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they considered themselves to be conservatives — more than any other single category. Support for conservation was strong across the political spectrum.

Conservation is not a right or left issue to Arizonans. It’s a center-of-the-trail issue. Lawmakers need to get in step.

Meeting will brainstorm Verde River @ Clarkdale Ideas sought to protect, restore and sustain river

[Source: Philip Wright, Verde Independent, 2/2/2012] – The Verde River @ Clarkdale project gained traction in July as a means to help the local economy by improving public access and expanding recreational opportunities along the 2.2 miles of the river through Clarkdale. The project is expected to become an integral part of the Sustainable Clarkdale vision.

To that end, the town is inviting the public to bring ideas to a Verde River @ Clarkdale brainstorming meeting Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The goal of that meeting is to begin creating a framework for a comprehensive master plan for preservation, protection and restoration of the river and its habitat in Clarkdale.

According to a press release from the Community Development Department, meeting participants will work in groups to address various topics regarding the project.

Those topics include:

– Increasing recreation such as kayaking, hiking and birding.

– Expanding public river access within Clarkdale to include outfitter support, comfort stations and parking areas.

– Creating educational opportunities, which would include access and interpretive signage.

– Exploring alternatives to current ditch diversions to enhance the river’s flow.

The Verde River @ Clarkdale project got started last summer when Mayor Doug Von Gausig and Town Manager Gayle Mabery spent time making an inventory of underperforming assets in Clarkdale.

During a July council meeting Jodie Filardo, director of community and economic development, told the council that what Von Gausig and Mabery discovered was that key resources – the Verde River and related areas – are underutilized, inaccessible, and as a result, economically undervalued by the town and its residents. Filardo further reported that she and Von Gausig had already made contact with representatives of the American Rivers Blue Trails program. She explained that the American Rivers program would open up many possibilities, and possible funding sources, for a project such as the Verde River @ Clarkdale. At that meeting, the Town Council directed staff to pursue ideas for the Verde River @ Clarkdale project.

In late September, the council approved having staff go after two grants from the Heritage Fund of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Filardo reported to the council that the state had $112,500 available for Urban Wildlife and $50,000 for Public Access grants. She told the council that the Verde River @ Clarkdale project aligns well with both of those granting focus areas.

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial Through Conservation!

More than 100 Conservation Advocates Meet with State Legislators for Environmental Day at the Capitol.

January 31, 2012, Phoenix, AZToday at the Arizona State Capitol, more than 100 people from 25 different legislative districts and representing more than 20 groups met with their state legislators in support of environmental protection and conservation programs.

Volunteer advocates asked legislators to support adequate funding for State Parks and to specifically support legislation sponsored by Representative Karen Fann (R-1) that allows parks to keep revenue generated from the parks to support the park system.

“Our state parks deserve to be open, public, and keep the money they earn at the gate from visitors, said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona.  “We hope the legislature will pass Representative Fann’s bill in good faith that state parks will be protected in this year’s budget and into the future.”

Conservation of state trust lands has long been a key priority for most Arizona conservation groups. While there is no comprehensive measure on the table to do that, advocates asked legislators to support conserving state trust lands and to support the bills being promoted by Senator John Nelson (R-10) to facilitate limited and transparent land exchanges for better management of state trust lands and public lands. They asked the legislators to refrain from trying to swipe the last of the Land Conservation Fund, a voter-protected fund that supports conservation of state trust lands and for which voters again expressed support on the 2010 ballot.

“We need to preserve certain state trust lands to save their natural resources, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and historic/geologic features so that our communities now and in the future have those treasures,” said Ann Hutchinson, Executive Vice President, North Country Conservancy – Daisy Mountain Preservation Effort. “The values go way beyond the obvious beauty of the land and the opportunities to recreate. The preserved open spaces have economic value. Businesses and residents look to preserves and parks to raise and maintain a high quality of life. Homes and land surrounding parks and preserves have higher value.”

Keeping funding for the Arizona Water Protection Fund was also a key issue for many advocates. The Arizona Water Protection Fund is the only dedicated funding source to protect and restore riparian habitats in Arizona. In 2011, the Legislature voted to permanently eliminate the general fund appropriation for the program.

Also on the priority list for advocates was a measure sponsored by Representative Steve Farley (D-28) that reinstates both the Heritage Fund and the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which helps to fund transit. Prior to the Legislature’s elimination of the State Parks Heritage Fund as part of the FY2011 budget, these dollars helped fund natural areas, historic preservation, and local and regional park programs.

“An additional measure, HCR 2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones, is a referral to the voters for the 2012 election and would restore the language and funding of the Parks’ side of the Heritage Fund,” said Janice Miano, Director of the Arizona Heritage Alliance. “With the success of either measure, the voters’ Heritage Fund would once again be whole and functioning, providing countless jobs, community pride, and potential for increased tourism to both city and rural areas.”

Group leaders expressed concerns about the plethora of anti-environmental legislation, much of it aimed at ignoring or weakening federal environmental laws and land protections. Among them are bills that seek to control national forests and other public lands, measures whose intent is to assert total control of air and water and thus ignore the provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

“We need our state legislature and governor to step up to strengthen Arizona’s environmental protection laws, rather than seek to ignore or weaken the safety nets for clean air and clean water, as well as our endangered plants and animals,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Without the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, there would be few, if any, protections for these important resources.”