NOTE: The first part of a three part series
So let’s say you enjoy outdoor recreation, but you’re not a hunter and not into fishing. But let’s, for arguments’ sake, say that you like bird watching. Or outdoor photography. Or geocaching. Or hiking. Or camping. Chances are, a fisherman or hunter has helped make your experience more enjoyable, and is working hard to make sure you can continue enjoying the outdoors, for years to come.
Other than a park fee or camping permit now and then, most outdoor pursuits are “free”. Sure you have to buy your gear, pay for gas, and buy your food – but for the most part, your recreation doesn’t “cost much”. So what does that have to do with hunters and fishermen? Lots. Game Wardens cost money. So do biologists. So do water guzzlers. So do clean-ups.
According to Arizona Game and Fish : “Hunting and angling are the cornerstones of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. These activities continue to be the primary source of funding for conservation efforts in North America. Through a 10 percent to 12 percent excise tax on hunting, angling and shooting sports equipment, hunters and anglers have generated more than $10 billion toward wildlife conservation since 1937.
Though past conservation efforts have focused on hunted species, non-hunted species reap the rewards as well. Protecting wetlands for ducks, forests for deer and grasslands for pronghorn have saved countless non-hunted species from peril.
Regardless of whether one chooses to actively participate in hunting or angling, people interested in wildlife and its future should understand the conservation role sportsmen play.” Arizona Game and Fish which receives no state funding, brings in the majority of its revenue through hunting and fishing license sales. No state general fund monies are used for wildlife conservation in Arizona.
But there’s more. Hunters and Fishermen in Arizona do more than purchase licenses and buy ammo and gadgets. A lot of them belong to one or more of Arizona’s Conservation Groups. There are a bunch of these groups in Arizona. Some are local, some are State, and some are Chapters of a National Group. Comprised of dedicated hunters and fishermen (and also non-hunters) these groups raise a lot of money in our state, and then turn around and use that money for habitat projects, education and youth programs. They fund biological studies, purchase equipment for research, build or repair water tanks – you name it. It’s important to know that not only do they raise the money, but often they do the work as well.
One such group is the Arizona Elk Society (AES) which is one of the premiere conservation groups in Arizona . This group held their first meeting in 2001, and they have never looked back. According to their website: “The first AES meeting was held on June 25, 2001. The group present discussed the desire to develop an Arizona Elk organization. The Arizona Elk Society is a group that was founded by hunters, elk and wildlife lovers, with the resolve to get involved in improving the numbers of elk in Arizona and improving and restoring the wildlife habitat in our State as well as protecting our Hunting Heritage for future generations. We felt Arizona needed a group with direct involvement with herd management and the capability to bring more funds raised directly to the elk herds in Arizona. Since our first meeting the number of individuals and families attending has grown. We have worked diligently in developing a modern, focused organization. The Arizona Elk Society is a registered Arizona non-profit organization”.
According to President Steve Clark, “At the time, there were no state groups dedicated to the needs of the elk in Arizona and many concerns over the future of Arizona's elk and habitat. The primary issues discussed at the first meeting were youth programs, educational programs, the need for direct involvement with game management officials and having the ability to bring more funds directly to the elk herds and their habitat in Arizona”. The vision of the Arizona Elk Society is to have quality wildlife habitat to support a balanced Elk Herd and benefit other wildlife. To provide today's youth with outdoor education and experience to get them, and keep them, involved in conservation, hunting and fishing. The Society’s Mission Statement says, “The mission of the Arizona Elk Society is to raise funds to benefit elk and other wildlife through habitat conservation and restoration and to preserve our hunting heritage for present and future generations.” Currently, the group has over 1200 active members.
Clark goes on to say. “Since inception the AES has raised over $4 million for Elk habitat in our state. All the money raised by the AES stays in the state of Arizona. Many of the projects that we have funded over the years not only benefit elk but because many types of wildlife use the same habitat as elk, it benefits game and non-game species, alike. Many of the projects we fund include providing wildlife waters, improving grassland habitat, saving riparian areas, forest thinning and controlled burns, pinon and juniper thinning and much more. In 2005 the Arizona Elk Society paid for a grazing allotment to be retired around Big Lake Arizona and through a Memorandum of Understanding with the USFS, signed an agreement to rest 26,000 acres from cattle grazing for the benefit of wildlife including many threatened and endangered species including the Apache Trout and others. In 2008 we signed a similar agreement again near Big Lake to conserve another 4,000 acres. In 2009 we followed up with our largest allotment, the Buck Springs allotment at over 73,000 acres. Many of the projects not only benefit the hunters and anglers in Arizona but also the wildlife watchers. The AES uses matching funds from many other organizations and federal agencies when funding projects. The total value of the projects that have been funded in our eleven years is over $14 million dollars. We have improved wildlife habitat on over 400,000 acres in Arizona.”
The funds that groups like the Arizona Elk Society raise are absolutely critical in preserving Arizona's wildlife and natural habitat. As stated, taxes and license fees make up a lot of funding in our state, but there simply isn't enough money to do what needs to be done. If you are looking for a way to give back, the Arizona Elk Society is a fun and family-friendly group. You don't need to be a hunter to help out. For more information on how to get involved, visit here: AES - Get Involved! To learn about membership, check this out: AES Membership. Remember, these projects benefit all species in that immediate area - both game and non-game species. You build a water tank somewhere that needs it, and every critter is better off - fom bugs to birds and everything in between!
Finally, you can visit with the folks from the Arizona Elk Society this weekend at the Phoenix ISE Show which runs February 21st through 24th at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Stop by and learn more about this incredible group!
Be sure to watch out for the next pieces in our series:
Part 2 will discuss some of the great PROJECTS organized, funded and completed by the Arizona Elk Society
Part 3 will take a look at just how they Raise The Money that goes towards these activities.