More Political Animals

by John Washington on August 16, 2012

I’m not talking about the USA Network series starring Sigourney Weaver as a very thinly disguised Hillary Clinton (Winger opponents: I’ve never even watched a single episode, but that’s because the trailers look lame and not because of your rhetoric).

I’m not talking about Rinos and Possums.

I AM talking about javelina; the much maligned “skunk pig;” or technically speaking, “the peccary.”

Photo from http://j-walkblog.com/index.php?/weblog/comments/20649, originally credited thus: I found this photo at the Arizona Daily Star gallery. Watching a herd of javelinas eating sunflower seeds from the ground. The baby was upset because the mother had just brushed him with her nose (and the cholla stuck to it was sharp)! Photo taken by David Baker.

Javelina are one of a double-handful of “big game” species (i.e., large mammals hunted for sport) in Arizona. From the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web page for javelina: They can grow up to 60 pounds, can live about 8 years in the wild, and mostly eat plants and small insects. You can find more about them on Wikipedia.

So what do javelina have to do with Scottsdale? They are one of the species in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve (MSP), and they are subject to hunting there even though the MSP is owned by and within the city limits of the City of Scottsdale.

FIRST LET ME SAY THAT I DO NOT OPPOSE HUNTING, NOR EVEN NECESSARILY HUNTING IN THE MSP. A couple of folks who registered public comment at the Game and Fish Commission meeting yesterday painted the rest of us pretty broadly as anti-hunting, and that absolutely is not the case.

I’m not currently an active hunter. However, I have hunted before and I am confident that if I ever feel the need to do it again I will be equally good at it. This issue, though, is less about hunting and more about where and under what circumstances it is appropriate to permit it. It is also to a great degree about who should be able to make those rules.

As it stands, most folks are are quite surprised to learn that hunting is allowed in the MSP. Archery season for javelina runs for most of the month of January, and shotgun season for quail runs from October to February.

Approximately 300,000 people hike in or otherwise enjoy the MSP every year. Clearly there exists potential for conflict between hunters and non-hunting users.

Hunting in Arizona is broadly regulated and authorized by the State of Arizona through the Department of Game and Fish. The philosophy is, as I understand it (but have been unable to find it in writing) that Game and Fish ‘owns’ all the wildlife in Arizona, regardless of where that wildlife may be within the state.

Arizona Game and Fish Department Mission Statement—To conserve, enhance, and restore Arizona’s diverse wildlife resources and habitats through aggressive protection and management programs, and to provide wildlife resources and safe watercraft and off-highway vehicle recreation for the enjoyment, appreciation, and use by present and future generations.

The MSP is in G&F’s “Game Management Unit 26M.” Hunting bag limits, weapons, and seasons for various species are established via Commission Orders crafted by G&F staff under director Larry Voyles, and approved by the G&F Commission.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission establishes policy for the management, preservation and harvest of wildlife, and makes rules and regulations for managing, conserving and protecting wildlife and fisheries resources, as well as for safe and regulated watercraft and off-highway vehicle operations.

Game and Fish just upped the “bag limit” for javelina so that each hunter can take two instead of just one. However, there is no limit to the number of hunters, thus there exists no real limit on the total number of animals taken.

This change was not based on any game management needs, only on the need to generate revenue (as stated in the official documents authorizing the new bag limit). Game and Fish Commission Order 6 in the “Spring Hunt Recommendations applies to javelina. The only applicable season is:

Archery-Only Nonpermit Tag Required Spring Javelina [January 1 – January 24, 2013]
Open Areas do not include  areas within municipal parks, municipal preserves, county parks, county preserves, airports, golf courses, or posted water treatment facilities (except as specifically opened in this Commission Order) or areas closed to hunting under A.R.S. Sections 17-303 and 17-304 or Commission Rules R12-4-301, R12-4-801, R12-4-802 and R12-4-803.12

However, the prohibition of hunting in “municipal preserves” does not apply to the MSP, via footnote:

Note 17. The following parks and preserves in Maricopa County are open to hunting for archery-only: Lake Pleasant, White Tank Mountains, McDowell Mountain, and Estrella Mountain Regional parks and McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Hunting in parks and preserves opened by this Commission Order is not permitted within ¼ mile of any developed picnic area, developed camp ground, shooting range, occupied building, boat ramp, or golf course. Developed areas do not include trails.

The MSP is the only municipal preserve on the list of those exceptions where hunting is allowed.

MSP is also (as far as I can see) the only one on the list where there is no adjacent agricultural use. Disruption of agriculture is one of the main reasons for using hunting to manage javelina populations.

My comments to the G&F Commission were roughly as follows:

Mr. Chairman, commissioners, director, staff, my name is John Washington. I am a former Scottsdale city commissioner on two of our more contentious commissions. So, I respect your efforts.

My concern is about hunting in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

I am not currently an active hunter. But I have done a bit of hunting, and I respect the sport and its role in game management. However, any successful game management strategy is based on population data.

It is my understanding that while limited study efforts have recently begun, current data is significantly lacking in Scottsdale’s MSP. On that basis I suggest we consider removing Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve from Note 17 of Commission Order 6 until we get further along in these studies.

Further I point out that Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the only municipal preserve on listed in Note 17. As such it is a significantly different environment than the others and perhaps a conventional game management strategy doesn’t precisely apply. For example there are much greater numbers of non-hunter recreational users, and there are no adjacent agricultural activities.

Other folks who commented also expressed concerns about the potential for safety of non-hunter Preserve users.

A couple of folks expressed support to maintain this hunting in the Preserve. Unfortunately, they made some pretty specious arguments. Among them I paraphrase the following:

  • Non-hunter users need to be more aware of hunting activities and be responsible for their own safety. My response to this is that very few Preserve users are even aware that hunting is legal in the Preserve. Beyond that, a big part of hunting success is a stealthy stalk and camouflage. Particularly with archery, you don’t even have the sound of the gunshots to warn you.
  • The crafting of Ordinance 6 was a two-year process with a lot of public outreach. Ditto above. The MSP-applicable part is a tiny fraction and it was not broadly noticed to the majority of the users of the MSP or the citizens of Scottsdale who own the MSP.
  • There are more animals killed by cars than hunters. All the more reason to study what we have before we authorize more hunting. Additionally, the limited study that has been done of populations within the MSP show the smallest game counts of any other game management unit.
  • The Preserve is a small area, so the numbers of animals taken is small. Ditto above, plus why not use the much larger areas outside the Preserve for hunting?
  • Banning hunting in the Preserve is starting down a slippery slope. As I mentioned before, the MSP is a unique case given its user mix, location within city limits, and lack of adjacent agricultural uses.
  • No one owns public land. Actually, the citizens and taxpayers own public lands and public policy is (or should be) to manage public lands to their benefit. In the case of the MSP, the citizens and taxpayers of Scottsdale own the land and the first duty of the City of Scottsdale in exercising that ownership is to the taxpayers of Scottsdale.

In conclusion I will add that Game and Fish has stated publicly that they will work with the City in addressing this issue. Mayor Lane, the City Council, and city staff have deferred responsibility back to the state. This is unfortunate, but like in other cases where the state has overreached (neutering our sign ordinance and mandating fall elections instead of spring), it follows a pattern of doing the easy thing (nothing) instead of the right thing (pushing back against the overreach).

I personally feel that hunting in the MSP is incompatible with the stated goals of the MSP. However, I also feel it is up to the citizens of Scottsdale to decide, and I’ll do my best to give them all the information they need to exercise that decision.

Additional links:

Game and Fish Department’s Hunt Guidelines describe the objectives and methodologies of “game management.”

I Am Not A Pig from Arizona Highways

MSP Ordinance “At a Glance”

MSP Ordinance

McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, click tab 2, “About MSC”

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission

New to Arizona? by Susan Rienzo

This Little Piggy from KB Ranch

Week-Old Javelinas from Peg Abbot

Jaguar Macho B

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