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WOLF’S DEN

Wolf's Den: Mulling the ethos of 'fair chase' in hunting

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Technology is a blessing overall, but when abused, it can be a bad thing. I am sure we all have some examples of that. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is, for the second time, looking at just such an issue.

More than a year ago, the commission banned the use of trail cameras that are capable of transmitting pictures. It was felt that such technology was not in the spirit of Fair Chase and would be too easy to abuse. Hunters use trail cameras to learn when and where game animals are in the small area the camera takes a picture of.

Now the commission is looking at all trail cameras. Changes here will be substantial and will affect thousands of hunters, some with huge amounts of money tied up in trail cameras.

The commission in December 2020 originally voted to open rulemaking with proposed language that would prohibit the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife. That rulemaking went through a public comment period in January.

In response to internal and external discussions and comments related to the December proposal, the commission, at its February 2021 meeting, voted 5-0 to open a separate rulemaking with proposed language that, if approved, would:

• Prohibit the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife within ¼ mile of a developed water source.

• Allow the use of trail cameras to aid in the take of wildlife from Feb. 1 through June 30 as long as the camera is not placed within ¼ mile of a developed water source.

Public comments related to the February rulemaking proposal are being accepted by email at rulemaking@azgfd.gov from March 11 through April 11, with the final decision being made at the commission's June meeting. Any changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

Why is the commission looking at trail cameras again? Because of abuses, public perception and the issues of hunters themselves, who are concerned that the ethos of Fair Chase in hunting is maintained. Fair Chase places limitations on hunters so the animal always has a greater chance of escaping than being harvested. Overall, hunters succeed 25% of the time and the animal escapes 75% of the time.

During some hunts, it is not uncommon to see more than a dozen trail cameras at a small water source. This can lead to issues between those placing trail cameras, issues with people checking their trail cameras disturbing wildlife and livestock, and the issue of the technology infringing on Fair Chase.

Some arguments against trail cameras:

• Trail cameras lead to a loss of some hunting skills, like reading the signs left by animals.

• Trail cameras make it too easy to identify and then pursue a specific animal.

• The use of trail cameras discriminates against those who cannot afford to own and then check 200 cameras every couple of days.

Some arguments for:

• Trail cameras limit the time spent by hunters checking water sources for tracks and other signs — so trail cameras reduce the impact on wildlife and livestock.

• Trail cameras allow for the identification of the older age class animals that are or soon will be past their prime breeding capability, thus removing the animals that would die in a year or two anyway.

The commission is listening, so pro or con, give them your thoughts.

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