Although the Arizona population keeps climbing, the number of hunting and fishing licenses sales are dramatically declining.

That is a challenge for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Pinetop Regional Supervisor Chris Bagnoli told the Pinetop-Lakeside Town Council on Feb. 1 when he presented his annual report and community engagement efforts.

Bagnoli said he was there to speak to the value of wildlife to communities in Arizona. He pointed out that when he began at AZGFD, his current position was occupied by council member Norris Dodd. He said for that reason, he felt he was preaching to the choir in this presentation.

The department operates under a business model. AZGFD generates funding from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and permits, as well as from matching federal funds from excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. They receive 69 percent of their income from sportsmen’s discretionary expenditures. They rely on a base of customers to support their business.

Although the population is growing, the number of outdoor recreation users is steadily trending downward.

Rural counties such as Navajo and Apache have natural resource-based economies that provide both challenges and business opportunities to the department. Outdoor recreation in vital to the local economy.

This provides the impetus for the department to begin working on all the things that attract people to outdoor opportunities and provide for the needs of the department’s customers.

“With changing demographics, kids aren’t getting out as much as they used to, so we need to find ways of attracting them,” Bagnoli said.

Community fishing programs are a new direction inside local communities. AZGFD is trying to provide opportunities that are easier, cheaper and closer to home.

Show Low has just contracted with AZGFD to provide and stock Show Low Creek with trout. St. Johns has Patterson Ponds, which has been a great addition to the recreational opportunities in Apache County. These are places where they can put in walking paths that kids can ride their bikes to, and people can just get out and enjoy the park-like atmosphere. Previously, these community fishing areas were restricted to the Phoenix and Tucson urban areas.

In turn, these areas become marketable to visitors. There are also fishing clinics provided by the department as teachable activities for children, and fishing programs for groups like veterans, such as the “Healing Waters” fishing event conducted annually at the Silver Creek Hatchery.

The Pinetop regional office for AZGFD has three wetland ponds that are currently being developed, one to conserve some snake populations, and the others to possibly use one or more of the ponds to provide those same opportunities for Pinetop-Lakeside as a fishing area.

“These ponds were part of the department’s past hatchery production area in the 1930s. Mike Lopez, our fisheries guy, got together with Dan Groebner and hatched a plan to apply for a National Resources Conservation Services Grant and we were able to refurbish these three ponds, Bagnoli said. “This gives us the opportunity to help and develop a federally listed species in the narrow-headed garter snake, as well as maybe provide some other opportunities.”

Town Manager Keith Johnson said after the presentation that he would like to coordinate with new Community Services Manager Tony Alba and Bagnoli — as well as council members — to talk about the possibilities within the next week.

Thanks to the TRACKS organization, Bagnoli mentioned there are already several trails in the area that could be incorporated into the project.

The department has also begun breeding a tiger trout, a hybrid of two other species of trout that grows large and is a good fighter for a sport fishing. The trout are sterile and are a hybrid of a brown and a brook trout. The colorful, orange trout are available to fish in four area lakes: Becker Lake in Springerville and Carnero Lake just east of Green’s Peak, as well as two lakes on the rim, Woods Canyon Lake and Willow Springs.

Youth and Family hunt camps are also being promoted. There has been some Navajo youth hunting camps provided by the department as well. Wildlife workshops take place regularly at the White Mountain Nature Center in Pinetop-Lakeside. These are coordinated mainly by Diane Tilton, of AZGFD’s Pinetop-Lakeside office who was also at the presentation.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep provide viewing for tourists and locals alike. Some are being relocated to the Eagar-Greer area and Bagnoli says the herd is surviving well and should someday be large enough to allow for a hunt.

The herd of sheep that seem to like living in the Morenci Mine area are regularly being killed by traffic and AZGFD is working on a solution with helping them there.

“It is strange that they want to live in the mine, but they seem to really like the habitat there,” Bagnoli said.

The Second Knoll target range is also coordinated through AZGFD and is becoming a popular site for target practice and helps keep shells and bullet casings from littering the landscape in other places.

Bagnoli also noted the High-Country Hummingbird Festival held in the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area just east of Springerville as drawing 1,000 visitors each year.

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is the department’s key partner in management that they need to coordinate with for wildlife habitat and wildlife recreation. Public lands in the Pinetop region is a combination of the National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, state and private lands.

“Wildlife knows no boundaries,” said Bagnoli.

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