PHOENIX – Faced with the loss of public access to a vast area of Game Management Unit 19B north of Prescott, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission on March 23rd decided to cancel the pronghorn antelope hunt there prior to the big game draw for the 2011 season.
The commission’s decision affects the hunting prospects for 65 hunters who would have received allocated tags. Commission Chairman Robert Woodhouse said, “There have been closures of other hunt units for a season or more based on biological reasons such as severe winter die offs, loss of habitat due to fires, etc…but this was the first time a decision was made to eliminate hunt tags due to public access closures. This was a difficult decision made only after extensive staff input and a long discussion by the commission.”
During the discussion, commissioners pointed out that this was a “no-win situation” for the commission, the department, and for the hunters who applied for the general and archery pronghorn antelope hunts in Unit 19B this fall, but the commission was compelled to do what was most fair to all concerned.
Late last week, the property manager for the Chino Grande Ranch, which is a checkerboard of private and state trust land parcels, verbally notified the department that the ranch is now closed to public access, due to a proposed renewable energy project. Access to other portions of the unit has also become restricted, with some private lands being closed entirely and other ranches allowing access by payment of “trespass” fees.
The Chino Grande Ranch contains a significant portion of the available pronghorn habitat in 19B, its lands also hold the greatest density of pronghorn numbers in the unit.
The deadline to apply for the upcoming draw was Feb. 8 and the draw results are pending, giving the commission only days to modify the affected hunts without affecting thousands of other hunters.
There are 4,780 people who applied for the 65 pronghorn antelope hunt permits in the two hunts (one general hunt and one archery hunt) scheduled for 19B. Game Branch Chief Brian Wakeling said “the antelope hunts in 19B are some of the most coveted in the state.”
The commission also considered reducing the number of permits in the hunt but after significant discussion, the members felt that option would do a disservice to those who applied, as the area left open for 2011 would differ substantially from that available when hunters applied in February.
With the elimination of these two hunts, the draw program will treat any choice where these hunts were selected as if all tags had been issued and move to the applicant’s next choice. The draw examines first and second choices primarily and then third,fourth, and fifth choices secondarily. The majority of the commissioners felt that to be the most equitable approach.
The commission also expressed its desire to open up a dialogue on the whole land access and wildlife availability issue with land management agencies, county governments and stakeholders to include hunters, anglers and other recreationists. At issue is access to public lands and state trust lands and the management of public resources, such as wildlife and fish.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission wants your comments and opinions on its recent action to close Game Management Unit 19-B (north of Prescott) for the fall 2011 pronghorn antelope hunt season.
We want to know what you think regarding this issue. All comments will be provided to the Commission and the Department’s leaders. While contact information is not required, if you would care to provide it you will be added to our contact database to receive information about future public events and meetings that will be held to address this and other wildlife-related recreation access issues.