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Coconino Voices: Focusing in on the issue of trail cameras
COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: Focusing in on the issue of trail cameras

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Technology is a wondrous thing. All of us have experienced how it can do the heavy lifting to make our lives simpler, easier and more enjoyable.

Yet, if left unbridled, advances in technology have the potential to outstrip the benefits and create negative consequences that might be felt years — or even generations — from now.

Case in point: The proliferation of trail cameras used for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, which is entrusted with establishing policy for the management, preservation and harvest of wildlife, voted unanimously at a meeting Dec. 4 in Payson to open the proposed rulemaking and begin the public process for potential future regulation of passive trail cameras used for the take of wildlife.

As the result of public concerns, the five-member Commission is looking at an extraordinarily complicated issue through many lenses with one clear objective in mind — to do whatever it takes to ensure that Arizona’s 800-plus native wildlife species are conserved and protected into the future, and that the heritage, traditions and ethos of our sport are maintained.

The list of concerns about the relentless rise in the use of trail cameras, and its impacts on the landscape, is long. For starters, there are growing conflicts between hunters over positioning of trail cameras on Arizona’s finite water sources. Those conflicts also extend to hunting guides for the same reasons. In addition, checking cameras in preparation for a future hunt have been reported to disrupt those participating in an ongoing hunt.

Let’s face it. Arizona has, and always will have, a limited water supply. Long periods of drought only exacerbate the problem. Wildlife has no choice but to use these same few water sources, which changes how we have to look at managing technology for the take of wildlife. Unlike in wetter states, every water source is mapped in Arizona.

Another facet of the problem is the disruption that unrestricted placement and monitoring of trail cameras has on Arizona’s important cattle industry. We are hearing an increasing number of complaints from our ranching partners about how the placement of as many as 30 to 40 trail cameras on a single water source — and the constant traversing across grazing lands to check those trail cameras — negatively affects their livestock operations and ability to make a living.

So, here’s a question: What will the technology look like five, 10 or 20 years from now? We have to look into the future and get in front of potential issues. There already are companies that can be hired to install any number of trail cameras, then monitor the images and send photos to their customers’ computers or phones. What we can’t have is the creation of an entire business sector, then after the fact come out and say that the business sector can’t exist anymore.

Arizona also is the nation’s fastest-growing state. As the population increases, so does the sale of hunting licenses. It only stands to reason that even more trail cameras will be installed on the landscape to pattern wildlife movements. In the meantime, those trail cameras will only become more affordable as manufacturers find better ways to improve and produce the technology. Trail cameras have also generated some bad potential legislation that the Commission was able to stall. The legislature is the wrong place to contemplate such serious policy.

Technology, for all of its benefits, can make us lazier. At stake is the possibility that some of the skills we’re trying to instill in our youth, our hunting future, will be lost. We deeply care about the ethos of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the concepts of Fair Chase, which addresses the use of “. . . new or evolving technologies and practices that provide hunters and anglers with an improper or unfair advantage in the pursuit and taking of wildlife, or may create public perception of an improper or unfair advantage. . .” This applies to areas where water is primarily point source water and game cannot escape detection.

The proposed language would simply treat both live action and passive trail cameras the same by banning them for the use of take. Trail cameras used for research, general photography, cattle operations or any reason other than the take of wildlife would remain legal.

This continues to be a fair and earnest debate. The challenge before us is hearing all opinions, then trying to consider them together in order for each of the five Commissioners to reach his own personal decision. A 30-day public comment period will continue through Feb. 1, 2021.

Comments can be emailed to rulemaking@azgfd.gov or mailed to: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Attn.: Celeste Cook, Rules and Policy Manager, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ, 85086.

Dr. Todd G. Geiler of Prescott and James E. Goughnour of Payson are members of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.

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