AGFD partners with ADOT to make highways safer
Many motorists have wondered what the new 8-foot fences are along Interstate 17 near Munds Park. These “exclusion fences” are designed to keep elk off the highway as part of a larger statewide effort to make highways safer for motorists and wildlife.
This transportation enhancement project is a cooperative effort between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Arizona Department of Transportation.
Elk are a common sight along I-17. Research indicates that I-17 has the highest rate of elk-vehicle collisions in the state. An elk can weigh more than 800 pounds, and a collision with an animal that size can have serious consequences.
In an effort to minimize vehicle-wildlife collisions, Game and Fish captured elk and fitted them with radio transmitter collars in order to follow their daily movements. This information tells biologists where the elk prefer to cross the highway and how often.
Game and Fish worked with ADOT to design an elk exclusionary fencing project and to pursue funding opportunities. The exclusionary fencing must be at least 8 feet high to keep elk from jumping over it and entering the roadway. If the elk enter the fenced areas adjacent to the interstate, escape ramps (large mounds of dirt) will allow them to safely leave the area and avoid being trapped.
As research has been conducted over the years, biologists have learned that wildlife will only utilize certain overpass and underpass designs. ADOT uses this information to construct specific structures and install fencing to funnel animals over or under the highways, as was the case on I-17 between Woods Canyon (milepost 317) and Munds Canyon (milepost 322) bridges.
“As we identify portions of the highways in Arizona that are active with wildlife, we can work closely with ADOT and create wildlife-friendly roadways which in turn will decrease the number of vehicle collisions, especially those involving elk,” says Jeff Gagnon, research biologist for Game and Fish. “We (Game and Fish and ADOT) have already completed several projects across the state and will continue this partnership to make highways safer for motorists.”
One major success story in Arizona is the State Route 260 project east of Payson. Fencing was installed to keep elk off the road and force them to safer crossing locations. Results from this project showed an 85 percent reduction in vehicle-elk collisions. Elk and other wildlife are moving under bridges that are similar to those structures along I-17 near Munds Park.
Game and Fish and ADOT are also addressing wildlife and roadway issues in other parts of northern Arizona, including Interstate 40 between Williams and Flagstaff, State Route 64 between Williams and the Grand Canyon, and U.S. 89 between Doney Park and Gray Mountain north of Flagstaff.
This past winter, especially during January and February, multiple deer and elk collisions occurred along U.S. 89 between Townsend-Winona and Silver Saddle roads in Doney Park. Although signs are already in place along the roadway to warn motorists and portable message signs are occasionally used, motorists should be aware that this stretch of roadway runs through a wildlife travel corridor. This is a “road” used by deer and elk to move back and forth during their seasonal migration from the foothills of Mount Elden to Turkey Hills and other areas east of U.S. 89.
Game and Fish and ADOT remind motorists that when travelling on roadways in Arizona, be aware of wildlife and maintain safe speeds, especially when driving between sundown and sunrise.
The joint project was funded by the Federal Highway Administration through the Transportation Enhancement Program. States like Arizona are required to allocate 10 percent of their federal transportation funding for enhancement projects, which are limited to specific types of projects. Fences designed to reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions are among the eligible projects.
Information about the wildlife-friendly highway projects can be found on the Arizona Game and Fish website at www.azgfd.gov/wildlifeplanning and ADOT at www.azdot.gov/inside_adot/OES/AZ_Wildlife_Linkages.
OUI checkpoint slated for weekend
Boat safe, boat smart, boat sober
The Arizona Game and Fish Department will be part of a multi-agency enforcement effort on the Colorado River system this weekend, checking for individuals operating under the influence (OUI).
Arizona Game and Fish, Bullhead City Police Department, Nevada Division of Wildlife, Department of Public Safety, Kingman Police Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Bureau of Land Management will be enforcing Arizona’s OUI legal limit of a .08 blood-alcohol content.
“A large number of boating accidents involve alcohol,” said Velma Holt, west sector supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Kingman office. “Removing impaired boaters from the waterways is critical in creating a safe, enjoyable recreational environment.”
In fact, alcohol is the top contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.
All boaters passing through the checkpoint will be checked for alcohol impairment as well as required safety equipment, such as proper life jackets and working fire extinguishers.
“The Colorado River and its reservoirs are becoming increasingly congested,” Holt said. “These waterways are shared with California and Nevada and the number of watercraft lends itself to more potential hazards.”
Holt advises boaters to review requirements in the regulations prior to launching.
“Pre-planning in regards to safety equipment is easy and cheaper than receiving a ticket and then having to meet those requirements,” she said.
Additional multi-agency OUI checkpoints will occur on the Colorado River and its reservoirs throughout the boating season.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department encourages boaters to take part in a boating education class. Interested parties can look for available classes on the department website, www.azgfd.gov.
Golden alga causes fish die-off on Salt River
A golden alga bloom caused a massive fish kill last week along a 20-mile stretch of the Salt River just upstream from where it flows into the east side of Roosevelt Lake but the die-off did not extend to the lake itself.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department began receiving reports of dead fish from the public on Wednesday, July 4 and department officers confirmed the fish die-off. A response team took water samples and collected dead fish on July 5, and lab tests on July 6 revealed that high concentrations of golden alga caused the die-off.
Biologists have since determined that most of the fish along that stretch of river were likely killed. However, there was no fish kill on Roosevelt Lake itself. Golden alga does not pose a known threat to humans.
Golden alga can produce a toxin that impacts the gills of fish and causes them to suffocate. Golden alga was first reported to cause extensive fish-kills in the 1930’s and has been found in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and at least a dozen other states. Biologists have not yet determined if Golden alga occurs naturally in Arizona, but it has been identified in more than 20 lakes statewide since 2003.
To date, no adverse health impacts have been noted for humans or non-gill-breathing wildlife that have come in contact with waters experiencing a Golden alga toxin bloom. The die-off has included species such as catfish, carp, bluegill, red shiner, largemouth bass, buffalo fish and crayfish.
Game and Fish advises the public not to eat any dead or dying fish they find anywhere regardless of the cause. However, people can continue to eat the fish they catch, as long as the fish are properly cleaned and thoroughly cooked.
Despite extensive research, biologists do not yet know exactly what causes Golden alga to produce the toxin that is fatal to fish, crayfish, mussels, and all gill-breathing creatures. However, experts have noted a connection between extended drought, elevated salinity in waterways, and fish-kills caused by the toxins in Golden alga.
“We believe that drought conditions and increased salinity may create an environment where Golden alga can thrive,” said Kirk Young, a fisheries biologist with Game and Fish. “Golden alga is found most often in waters with especially high salinity.”
The Salt River takes its name from the salt springs that are found upstream and responsible for the water’s high salinity in periods of low flows, Young said. The salinity in the Salt River is more than three times the concentration currently found in Roosevelt Lake.
Golden alga is currently in the extreme eastern end of the Salt River arm of Roosevelt Lake (east of School House Point) in high numbers. However, no fish mortalities in this area have been observed or reported.
Game and Fish will continue to investigate the situation and monitor waterways along the Salt River, including Apache, Canyon and Saguaro lakes where Golden alga is believed to still exist, but currently in low concentrations. Small systems such as urban ponds can be treated to eliminate Golden alga, but there currently exists no way to treat large system reservoirs or rivers.
Game and Fish will continue to monitor waterways along the Salt River, including Apache, Canyon and Saguaro lakes. However, if drought conditions persist, downstream reservoirs could be at risk in the future.
Chronic wasting disease not found in Arizona deer or elk
Arizona Game and Fish Department has completed testing of deer and elk for Chronic Wasting Disease for the 2011 hunting season.
Chronic Wasting Disease attacks the brain of deer, elk, and moose causing weight loss, abnormal behavior and death. The department tested 1,185 deer and elk during the 2011 hunting season and did not detect CWD. However, the continued vigilance of hunters is essential for the department’s effective monitoring of CWD in deer and elk. Testing will resume this fall.
Game and Fish began testing for CWD in Arizona in 1998. CWD has been found in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, but no cases have been detected yet in Arizona. There is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
The areas of highest concern include Game Management Unit 12B, which borders Utah, and GMUs 1 and 27, which border New Mexico. However, all hunters are invited to participate in the monitoring by bringing the heads of deer or elk recently harvested statewide to any Game and Fish Department office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and at additional locations around the state.
Information regarding sample collection sites will be available after August 15th.There is no charge for testing and notification of results. Hunters will be asked to provide details about the county and game management unit in which the animal was harvested, the hunt and permit number, hunting license, and the hunter’s address and phone contact information. Test results will be available in six to eight weeks online at www.azgfd.gov/cwd, click “Chronic Wasting Disease Test Results” link on the right side of the page.
“Participation of hunters, taxidermists and meat processors is crucial for effective CWD surveillance program,” said Carrington Knox. “Collection of samples from elk and deer hunters is an essential element for successful CWD monitoring efforts.”
CWD is a neurodegenerative wildlife disease that is fatal to cervids, including deer, elk and moose. Symptoms of CWD include emaciation or weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination. Animals with CWD may also stumble, tremble, have trouble walking, or appear listless.
Precautions for keeping CWD out of Arizona
CWD has been reported in several neighboring states, including Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. To prevent CWD from entering Arizona, when hunting deer and elk in other states it important to take these precautions before returning to Arizona with deer or elk harvests:
* Do not cut into the spinal cord or remove the head.
* Do not quarter (or other method) the carcass with any of the spinal column or head attached.
* Do not bring the brain, intact skull or spinal cord into Arizona.
* Bone out the harvested deer or elk meat and package it, either commercially or privately before entering Arizona.
There are no restrictions on returning to Arizona with out-of-state harvests of animal hides and skull plates cleaned of all tissue and washed in bleach. Heads from a taxidermist, sawed-off antlers and ivory teeth may also be brought into Arizona from out-of-state hunts.
Since 2002, the department has also had rules in place restricting the movement of captive deer and elk into or within Arizona, as well as subjecting the animals to marking and reporting requirements.
Desert tortoises truly in need of adoption
PHOENIX – Are you looking for a unique pet that is fascinating, low maintenance and educational? Do you have a yard big enough for a dog, but no time to take one for daily walks and weekend outings?
If so, consider adopting a desert tortoise through the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Tortoise Adoption Program.
The program, conducted in partnership with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Phoenix Herpetological Society, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Desert tortoises are protected in Arizona and cannot be legally collected from the wild, but breeding of captive tortoises and the return of tortoises by owners who can no longer care for them has led to a surplus of these unique animals at authorized adoption facilities. The facilities are at capacity and are seeking people willing to adopt and care for a tortoise.
“The Game and Fish Department receives hundreds of unwanted adult and captive-born tortoises each year, which takes away resources for conservation efforts of wild tortoises,” says Cristina Jones, Arizona Game and Fish turtle biologist. “That is one reason we discourage captive breeding and only allow adoption of one tortoise per household.”
Contrary to many people’s initial assumptions, desert tortoises can be interactive and provide companionship without as many demands as a dog or cat. Tortoises can teach many of the same life lessons to children, including responsibility, compassion and commitment.
To adopt a desert tortoise, you will need to have an enclosed area in your yard free from potential hazards, such as a dog or an unfenced pool. You will need to construct a burrow for the tortoise so that it can get relief from extreme temperatures.
Those interested in sharing their yard with a tortoise should visit www.azgfd.gov/tortoise for more information on feeding, caring for, and creating a habitat for a tortoise. The desert tortoise adoption packet, which includes the adoption application, can also be downloaded from that web page.
If you are interested in adopting a desert tortoise, and live within the tortoise’s native range (Phoenix, Tucson, Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu, and Yuma areas), send your completed application form to your nearest state-sanctioned desert tortoise adoption facility (Scottsdale, Tucson, Kingman or Yuma). A link to contact information can be found at www.azgfd.gov/tortoise.
Schools are encouraged to consider applying for a Schoolyard Grant through the Heritage Fund Schoolyard Habitat Program to build a desert tortoise enclosure and then apply for a tortoise adoption. For more information on Heritage Fund Schoolyard Grants, please contact Robyn Beck, Heritage Grants coordinator, at (623) 236-7530.
“Once captive, desert tortoises can never be released into the wild,” Jones emphasized. “Not only is it illegal, it can jeopardize wild populations through the introduction of disease, or displace wild tortoises.”
Desert tortoises can live as long as 50 to 100 years. They grow to be about 15 pounds and hibernate in the winter months. They eat plant material, including grasses and wildflowers.
Natural resource injury case settled for Freeport-McMoRan Morenci Mine
PHOENIX – U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona approved a $6.8 million settlement among the State of Arizona, the U.S. Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Freeport-McMoRan Corporation and subsidiaries (Freeport) for natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) resulting from the release of hazardous substances from the Freeport Morenci mine, located in east-central Arizona.
The settlement money will be used for the restoration of Arizona wildlife populations and their habitat.
The settlement is the result of several years of negotiations among Freeport-McMoRan Corporation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Settlement negotiations began in 2003 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated bird mortalities at Freeport’s Morenci tailings ponds.
The Morenci mine site is located near the Arizona communities of Clifton and Morenci near the New Mexico border. The mine site has numerous open pits, leach rock stockpiles, tailings impoundments and uncovered ponds. Five smelters also have operated historically at the site.
Rainwater-formed ponds on the tailings were documented to be highly acidic in 2000 and 2001 and to cause death and other injuries to migratory birds through exposure and ingestion. Hazardous substances at the mine, located between the San Francisco River and Eagle Creek, have included sulfuric acid, copper, and other dissolved metals.
Negotiations included the results of field investigations, documentation of injuries reported in 2000-2001, and the modeling of injuries that preceded the documented event and resulting future loss of wildlife productivity.
“The Arizona Game and Fish Department looks forward to putting these settlement funds to work to create wetland habitat for Arizona’s migratory and resident birds,” said Game and Fish Director Larry Voyles. “The Department commends Freeport-McMoRan for voluntarily reporting the bird mortalities and entering into a settlement which fairly compensates the public for lost resources.”
“I am pleased to see this settlement agreement between the State of Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Freeport-McMoRan Corporation,” said Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Now we can begin the process of restoration by working with the public and other involved stakeholders to determine what restoration project or projects will best compensate for those resource losses.”
“We feel this is a fair settlement to resolve this matter,” Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Henry Darwin said. “It’s also important to note that Freeport-McMoRan has proactively changed its operating procedures over time to prevent these kinds of problems in the future.”
The settlement money will be held in the Interior Department’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Fund until restoration projects are selected. A trustee council consisting of ADEQ, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will solicit project ideas and prepare one or more draft restoration plans for public review and comment before selecting projects for implementation.
Restoration projects will be designed to restore, rehabilitate or replace injuries to terrestrial, aquatic and avian habitats. These plans will be made available for review at a later date.