The helicopter flew low as it made its way over the rolling grasslands of the Raymond Wildlife Area about 30 miles southeast of Flagstaff.
In a sling hanging from the chopper’s underbelly was an unusual cargo: a Rocky Mountain elk that had been netted just minutes before.
The 600-pound animal was one of 60 captured by state wildlife officials on Tuesday and Wednesday. After a month-long quarantine in a holding pen at the wildlife area, the elk will be trucked across the country to West Virginia.
The multi-week, highly coordinated process aims to bring elk back to the Mountain State, which hunted off the last of its native Eastern elk around the 1860s, said Stephen McDaniel, director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
“We’re the ones that drove them out so we should be the ones to try to bring them back and reestablish them,” McDaniel said.
For Arizona wildlife managers, the translocation was a welcome opportunity to further conservation and help another state reestablish an elk population, said Amber Munig, big game program supervisor with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
It’s also a rare occurrence.
This week was just the second time that Arizona has exported its elk to other states. The first time was in the early 2000s when the state sent animals to Kentucky to help that state reestablish its population, Munig said. West Virginia contacted Arizona about getting elk several months ago because the state’s population is one of the few that are free of diseases like tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. It’s also robust enough, with sufficient reproduction rates, to support removal of some animals, Munig said.
After their cross-country truck ride, the five dozen elk will be let loose on 40,000 acres within two wildlife management areas in southern West Virginia. The landscape is dominated by a mix of dense woodlands and grasslands that were replanted and restored after mountaintop removal mining, said Randy Kelley, a wildlife biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Returning elk to the state is part of a larger effort to bring back a range of native species, including white-tailed deer, turkeys and bears, McDaniel said. West Virginia’s leaders also see potential for elk viewing to provide a tourism-based economic boost to an area where the mining industry has faced a steady, long-term decline, Kelley said.
The state hopes to import 250 elk over four to five years and is creating specific wildlife viewing areas that it hopes will attract people from across the region, McDaniel said.
“For a hundred years people have gone into southern West Virginia and taken resources out and they really haven’t left anything for the folks down there,” McDaniel said. “Bringing the tourist industry down into West Virginia to see the elk roaming the mountains that they once did 150 years ago. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Eventually, the state hopes to allow elk hunting as well, he said.
To capture the elk, spotter planes and people on the ground helped direct the helicopter to different herds across an approximately 300-mile area around the wildlife area. The helicopter pursued a group of animals for a maximum of three to five minutes before either shooting out a net to capture one or pulling off, so as to not run the animals to exhaustion, Munig said.
The net serves to tangle the animal’s legs, allowing the helicopter to land and a mugger to jump out and hobble the animal by putting straps around its limbs. The elk also got blindfolded and given a small sedative to keep them calm, Munig said.
After capture, each elk was loaded into a large, heavy duty sling and flown to a central processing area, where a team of biologists, veterinarians, wildlife managers and volunteers assessed the elk’s health, administered shots, took its temperature and attached a GPS tracking device as well as identification tags on the animal’s ears. If an animal came in overheated from trying to outrun the helicopter, the team brought in buckets of cold water to pour over its body.
The entire process didn’t take more than a few minutes and when it was finished, each elk was released into a holding pen lined with black felt tarps to keep the animals calm and prevent other animal intruders during the quarantine period, said Shelly Shepherd, spokeswoman for Arizona Game and Fish.
The cost of constructing the pen ran about $40,000 and the capture crew was another $40,000, Munig said. All of those costs were covered by the state of West Virginia and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
For its part, Arizona Game and Fish staff put in time to help organize and carry out the capture and quarantine process.
The state, after all, received a similar favor a century ago.
Overhunting eliminated Arizona’s native Merriam’s elk by the early 1900s, so the state reached out to Wyoming and first received a delivery of Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park in 1913, Munig said. The 80-plus animals formed the core of the elk population in Arizona, she said.
Returning elk to West Virginia, and reintroducing them in Arizona, is about bringing large herbivores back to landscapes that evolved around them, said Jeremy Krones, program manager with the Diablo Trust ranches, which border the Raymond Wildlife Area.
“Even though we extirpated the elk from the East Coast a long time ago and the native elk of northern Arizona not too long ago, we still try to correct our mistakes and I think that's a big part of active land management,” Krones said, his jeans dirty after helping process several of the captured elk.
“It’s understanding that we as humans, we play a significant role in this and we might take a step back but that doesn’t mean we can't take two steps forward,” he said.
In the first test of new "Emergency Parking Only" signs along Highway 180, Highway Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers wrote a dozen tickets over the snowy weekend.
According to Trooper James Carne, 12 tickets for parking citations were written on Highway 180 between mileposts 221 and 233 on Saturday and Sunday.
In order to control some of the traffic and snowplay along the highway, new signs reminding motorists that only emergency parking was allowed along Highway 180 were put up this winter by the state.
Coconino County also approved an ordinance this winter prohibiting parking along county roads in winter, and deputies were shooing visitors out of neighborhoods along Highway 180, he said. Deputies weren’t giving out citations but were mainly warning people they couldn’t park along the roadside and asking them to move along.
Violations of either law comes with a stiff fine. Motorists parking along Hwy 180 can be fined $168. Motorists violating the county’s parking ordinance can be fined $200.
Coconino County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Rex Gilliland said deputies were busy all over the county last weekend helping stranded motorists, responding to slide offs and accidents. Over the weekend of Jan. 20-21, deputies responded to 11 calls for non-injury accidents, 17 injury accidents, 18 motorist assists and three public assists.
Gilliland said the last two categories could include some accidents or giving motorists and their passengers a ride back to town after they got stuck in the snow or mud on a U.S. Forest Service road. Deputies will give people a lift back to town if they get stuck, he said. But they do not pull vehicles that are stuck out of the mud or snow. You have to call a tow truck for that.
Deputies were called in from the Williams district to help cover some of the calls that came in but no off-duty offers were called in. Some deputies were held over after the end of the shift during the busiest hours.
Arizona Snowbowl had good weekend traffic during its 80th anniversary season. The ski and snowboarding resort saw 11 inches of snow over the weekend according to an email from Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray. The resort has seen a total of 29 inches this season.
And all of the lifts have been operating every day since the beginning of January, he said. More than half of the ski trails are also open for visitors to enjoy.
Looking to the coming weekend, Nordic Village is preparing to rent more snowshoes and open up its snow play area. However, the ski trails have become a little rough with the warm weather and they won’t be renting skis. They also have few yurts and cabins available.
Ed.note: this story has changed from its original.
WASHINGTON – New tariffs imposed Tuesday by the Trump administration on imported solar products will benefit domestic manufacturers, but could hit consumers and other parts of the solar energy industry hard, experts said.
The proclamation was one of two signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump, along with a measure imposing tariffs on large washing machines, actions the White House said are needed to “provide relief to U.S. manufacturers injured by surging imports.”
“Our companies have been decimated, and those companies are going to be coming back strong,” said Trump, according to a White House transcript of the signing ceremony. He added that the tariffs would cause companies to manufacture those items in the U.S. creating opportunities for “a lot of workers, a lot of jobs.”
But critics of the move said it could have the opposite effect. The Solar Energy Industry Association said in a statement that the 30 percent tariff on solar components could result in the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments in the U.S.
“These measures will make it more difficult and harder to sell investment in solar energy to consumers,” said Howard Crystal, senior attorney for the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson.
“The rooftop sector of the industry will lose jobs like installers and utility programs will lose investors because the time it takes for costs to payback will be doubled,” Crystal said.
The tariffs follow investigations by the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative into complaints that the Chinese government was supporting production of solar cells that were flooding the U.S. at below-market prices.
The agencies determined that solar imports were a “substantial cause of serious injury or threat to the domestic industry” and recommended the tariff-quota under the president’s authority to give “relief from injury caused by import competition.”
The proclamation signed Tuesday would take effect Feb. 7 and would allow 2.5 gigawatts worth of cells to be imported before a 30 percent tariff would kick in. The levy would drop by 5 percent a year before ending entirely after four years.
Tempe-based solar manufacturer First Solar saw its stock price jump Tuesday morning before it settled back down to the previous day’s level by late afternoon. A spokesman for First Solar said the company would not comment Tuesday on the tariff.
But while U.S. manufacturers could see gains, those gains could be short-lived, said Brandon Cheshire, the president of the Arizona Energy Industries Association.
“It’s an evolving process, but it’s not going to save the companies that prompted this action,” Cheshire said Tuesday.
In 2016, 40 percent of the renewable energy generated in Arizona was solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But all renewables still only accounted for 7 percent of the state’s power in 2016, the EIA said.
Cheshire predicts there will be a 15 to 30 percent reduction in solar integration across the state as a result of Tuesday’s action.
Joy Seitz, who runs a solar-energy supply business in Tempe, said she thinks it will just be business as usual.
“It’s just another decision made by a government entity. We have to pivot,” said Seitz, the CEO of American Solar and Roofing.
“We’re happy the decision was made either way because unanswered questions like that cause an unstable market,” she said. “It could’ve been worse.”
Seitz said her company buys solar products from large foreign corporations like Hyundai and LG Electronics because of their “diverse portfolios” and she does not believe that domestic companies will drive prices up because of the tariffs.
But Cheshire believes that large U.S. solar companies will be able to buy up all the available products and raise prices because the tariffs protect them from foreign competition, therefore diluting the quality of their product and service.
“Chinese solar products are just as good, if not, better than U.S. made solar products,” Cheshire said.
When asked whether he was concerned that the tariffs might start a trade war with other countries, Trump brushed the question off.
“There won’t be a trade war,” said Trump, adding that his administration is also considering tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. “There will only be stock increases for the companies that are in this country.”
Crystal saw a different motive for the proclamation, calling it just another attempt by the administration to undermine renewable energy and promote fossil fuels.
“Their motive is hiding in plain sight,” Crystal said. “It’s just another effort to bail out the dying coal industry.”