A great deal of discussion has occurred over the past few months on important issues related to hunting, fishing and wildlife management. As part of its promotion of the partial privatization or diversion of Arizona's wildlife resources, one constituent group recently circulated an “open letter” regarding problems, or challenges, facing sportsmen.
One of the topics the open letter listed was loss of wildlife. To illustrate their point, the circulators of the letter included the data below, comparing the number of permits and harvest of six big game species in the years 1994 and 2010. While the numbers for each year are accurate, the comparison is still artificial. Quite simply, if this was 1994 Arizona, it would still look like 1994 Arizona. The same could be said of 1964. Or 1934. Or ...?
Having healthy, viable wildlife populations is an important and enduring challenge for all who enjoy our wildlife resources, and that challenge is not something new. For example, if data were plucked from the year 1929, an examination of the minutes of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission meeting on Nov. 29-30, 1929, would show that the Commission voted to close the area south of the Gila River to the hunting of deer for an indefinite period of time.
The choice of 1994 as a comparison point (as opposed to any other year) is interesting, and only the circulators of the data can explain their rationale for choosing that year. While the above figures may be accurate for each of the two chosen years, their use in a two-point comparison alone neglects information that might provide context and give people a better understanding of the situation.
Our state was a very different place in 1994 than in 2010. Arizona had about 2 million fewer residents, the average price of gas nationally was around $1.11 per gallon, the Dow Jones industrial average had a high of about 3,900, and the state was still in the midst of a notable “wet period,”’ with above-average precipitation from the post-1976 period until approximately 1998.
In the figures above, the two-point comparison of 1994 and 2010 suggests a strictly linear decline in permits during the 1994-2010 time period, which is not accurate. Here are some additional facts sportsmen/women and other wildlife enthusiasts should know.
- DEER. Although deer permits have declined since achieving a high-water milestone in 1986, the number of permits since 2003 has been increasing annually (from 61,432 to 68,078, at about 900 permits per year).
- PRONGHORN. Pronghorn permits have been highly variable through time, but a recent high point was in 1994 with 1,483 permits, and a recent low point was in 2004 with 861 permits. In 2010, 949 permits were authorized, which reflects a growing trend in permits for pronghorn.
- BIGHORN SHEEP. In 1994, bighorn sheep permits reached a milestone at the second greatest number of permits issued. Permit numbers declined to 82 in 2005, but have since increased to 99 in 2011.
- ELK. Elk permit numbers increased over time, peaking at 24,195 in 2002. Permit numbers have been reduced since, largely in response to hunter desires after that date. Still, the permit numbers continue to increase with time.
- STANDARDIZED SURVEY PROTOCOLS. It should be noted that with regard to deer surveys, the department established standardized survey protocols beginning in the mid-2000s. Surveyed animals per hour (Catch per Unit Effort) provide a standardized index as to population trajectory, similar to permit numbers. Survey data suggests that the population of deer in Arizona is growing.
- DROUGHT. Drought is a factor that has contributed to declines in wildlife populations:
- Decadal-scale Pacific Ocean circulation persistence can result in long-term drought in the Southwest, including Arizona, and may be reflected in wildlife productivity. These patterns resulted in extremely dry conditions between 1999 and 2005. During the past two decades, several La Niña episodes (1989-90, 1995-96, and 1998-2001) have initiated Arizona droughts. The La Niña of 2005-06 resulted in virtually no snowpack in Arizona until mid-March, with 29 of the 34 snow-measuring sites monitored by the NRCS reporting no snow as of March 1, 2006, the least amount recorded since measurements began in the late 1930s. While drought of the last decade may have similar precipitation conditions to the drought of the late 1940s and 1950s, temperatures during the last decade are almost two degrees higher. This warming trend may have affected the severity of drought conditions and productivity.
- The last notable ‘wet period’ with above-average precipitation was the post-1976 period which lasted until approximately 1998, which may have affected productivity during the period 1999 through 2006.
- Alternatively, in many studies, when buck-to-doe ratios exceed 40:100, recruitment begins to diminish for reasons that may involve competition for limited resources. Based upon public input and Commission guidance, the Department manages within a conservative range for buck-to-doe ratios, but could increase permits for deer or elk, without any negative consequences to recruitment, if there is a desire to increase the numbers of permits.
- The Commission has chosen a conservative range because sportsmen have requested a more conservative hunt structure, often focusing on public desires to pursue older age class animals. Arizona’s guidelines for mule deer buck-to-doe ratios fall within the center of the ranges managed by other states. Selecting this conservative strategy reduced permit availability.
We hope this information broadens constituents' understanding of the data that was circulated in the open letter on this topic and gives a better understanding of harvestable big game numbers and the factors that influence those numbers. We look forward to continuing to work with you on these challenges and opportunities.