Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Chapter 6: Conservation Partnerships

As part of the revisions process — and to meet two of the Eight Required Elements — AZGFD held a series of public surveys and forums as well as stakeholder focus groups throughout 2020 and 2021. The purpose of these broad outreach efforts was to offer a forum to present the AWCS to the general public and our partners and to provide updates on the AWCS revision process. Perhaps, most importantly, these outreach efforts gave us a chance to obtain feedback from these vital constituents on how to improve the AWCS to make it the most effective, comprehensive, and innovative conservation strategy possible.

As a result of these outreach efforts, AZGFD has incorporated several of these suggestions and concerns identified by the general public and our stakeholder partners. Incorporating these changes would allow us to meet mutual outcomes to help conserve wildlife while simultaneously meeting the needs of Arizonans. Some of the changes we incorporated to the AWCS include: 

  • Increased emphasis on climate change and wildlife connectivity

  • Improved public awareness and trainings of the AWCS

  • Identified actionable priority areas for conservation

  • Developed an industry engagement strategy and promote use of the AWCS

Public Participation Summary

Outreach to inform development of the AWCS included a wide-ranging public survey in 2020, followed by a series of focus groups in November of 2020, January of 2021, and April of 2021. Three public forums also were  held in September 2021. The outcomes of the survey, focus groups, and public forums helped inform the development of the AWCS and the associated web presence and on-line planning tools. We contracted Lisa DeBruyckere of Creative Resource Strategies, LCC, to work with AZGFD staff to develop and implement an outreach strategy to engage the public and partners in the development of the AWCS. The outreach was conducted remotely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In August of 2020, we conducted a public survey via AZGFD’s email listserv, social media posts, and direct email to targeted partners. The purpose of this survey was to share information about the AWCS and revision process, and obtain initial input and feedback on the core concepts. A total of 2,345 people responded to the survey. Respondents represented a variety of backgrounds and interests, including, among others, interested citizens, landowners, conservation organizations, and representatives from local, state, and federal governments. These public surveys provided us valuable information on how to improve the AWCS by focusing on three main topics: 1) The public’s engagement with the current SWAP, 2) What the public view as the top threats to wildlife and habitats in Arizona, and 3) What changes would they like to see in the AWCS for 2022. Selected results from these surveys are detailed below.

Public Engagement and the AWCS

To gauge public awareness of the AWCS, we first asked respondents to describe their familiarity with the 2012 SWAP. A total of 46% stated they were “not at all familiar”; 38% were “somewhat familiar”; 13% were “familiar”; and 3% were “very familiar” (Figure 7).

Survey respondents described their frequency of using information, or maps, from the 2012 SWAP. A total of 49% responded “Never”; 22% responded “Sometimes”; 19% responded “Rarely”; 8% responded “Often”; and 2% responded “All the time” (Figure 8).

Survey respondents then asked to describe how they have used the 2012 SWAP (99% response; Figure 9). The most common uses of the 2012 plan were to obtain maps or data layers on species of interest (31%) and to assess the distribution and abundance of species (28%).

Survey respondents were asked to assess the effectiveness of AZGFD in protecting wildlife and natural lands in the last decade (99.96% response; Figure 10). A total of 85% of respondents rated AZGFD as very effective/effective/somewhat effective in protecting wildlife and natural lands in the last decade.

Identifying Threats to Wildlife and Habitats

Survey respondents were then asked to describe their perceived impact of 22 threats that currently have, or will have, on Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats (100% response; Figure 11). Respondents then rated these 22 potential threats as “high impact” and “very high impact.” Top 10 threats identified were: drought, urban growth, water quality and quantity, groundwater depletion and springhead use, altered surface hydrology, rural development, barriers to animal movement, invasive species, motorized off-road recreation, and unnatural fire regimes.

Other threats included: border effects, disease/pathogens/parasites, grazing by ungulates, illegal fish stocking, insect infestations, excess nutrients/algal blooms, roads for motorized vehicles, shrub and woodland invasions, solar energy development, and barriers to private landowners that seek to implement conservation actions.

Survey respondents were then asked to describe the importance of activities to address threats to Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats (Figure 12). Activities were described as either “very important” or “important” to address threats to wildlife and their habitats. These include, in order of importance: science and data, funding, monitoring, education, research, long-term vision, land use planning, enforcement of existing regulations, local volunteers, regulations, partnerships, acquiring land for conservation, and scientific experts.

Changes for the AWCS

Survey respondents were asked if they had suggested changes that should be made to the 2012 SWAP (Figure 13). Respondents that did provide input made suggestions in the areas of enforcement/regulations, hunting tags and fishing seasons, water catchments for wildlife and conservation, education and public awareness, wolves and predators, funding, and road use/OHV.

Survey respondents were then asked to provide suggestions to improve partnerships, resources, or programs to conserve and protect Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats (95% response; Figure 14). Respondents described improved public awareness (43%), improved access to science, data, coordination/collaboration to prioritize existing funding and seek new sources of funding (31%), training on how to use the SWAP and decision support tools for land management practitioners and planners (21%), and improved access to science, data and information about the distribution and abundance of Arizona fish and wildlife and their habitats (4%).

Public Forums

In September 2021, AZGFD conducted a series of public forums. The forums were held virtually on three consecutive days and consisted of the same general content presented by AZGFD staff. The purpose of these presentations was to provide an update on the status of the AWCS and its key components while offering the public an opportunity to comment on the AWCS. A total of 90 individuals from the public attended the online forums, which were held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Presentations by AZGFD staff were followed by a short question and answer period. Participants were also asked to complete a short online survey. 

Overall, public response to the AWCS was positive. From these forums and suggestions/comments we received from the attendees, we developed several next steps to continue engagement with the public and our partners. Some of these efforts include:

  • Host meetings with the public, and specifically the target audiences that will use the AWCS (e.g., federal agencies, developers) once the online tools and data development/analysis are completed.

  • Develop a one-pager infographic that clearly articulates the role of the AWCS and State Wildlife Action Plan relative to other facets and programs of the AZGFD (e.g., hunt guidelines, fish management).

  • Continue to share progress and elements of the AWCS through the magazine, social media, partners, and others to enhance awareness, understanding, and support for the AWCS and AZGFD’s role in the conservation and management of Arizona’s wildlife and their habitats.

Stakeholder Engagement Summary

In the fall of 2020 and spring 2021, AZGFD conducted a series of stakeholder engagement focus groups with representatives from around the state. All 10 focus groups were conducted virtually in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Representatives from more than 40 groups participated in these discussions, including representatives from federal, state, and local governments, Native American tribes, NGOs, industry, universities, and more. Attendees of these focus groups included our partners from:

  • Federal Agencies: USFWS, USBR, USDA Wildlife Services, BLM, Federal Highway Administration, USFS, NPS, US Army Yuma Proving Ground, USAF Luke Air Force Base—Barry M. Goldwater Range

  • Academia: University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, Grand Canyon University, Arizona State University

  • Native American Tribes: White Mountain Apache Tribe, Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Hopi Tribe

  • Local Government: City of Peoria, City of Flagstaff, Pima County

  • NGOs: Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever, Audubon Arizona, Friends of Northern Arizona Forests

  • Industry: Asarco Silver Bell Mining, Westland Resources, Inc., Matrix Design Group

In November of 2020, AZGFD hosted a series of focus group sessions to ask the following questions to gauge current engagement with the 2012 SWAP and to identify what changes they’d like to see in the 2022 AWCS. Responses are presented in bullet points:

1. Describe ways in which you use, or intersect with the SWAP:

  • Federal agencies use it for permitting, such as NEPA and ESA compliance as well as natural resource planning.

  • Tribes use SWAP to inform wildlife and fishery management programs.

  • Local governments use the SWAP for wildlife connectivity and corridor assessments, information on threatened and endangered species, and land acquisition.

  • Academia uses the SWAP for in-classroom discussions, grant writing, maps, and information on species and habitats.

  • Industry uses the SWAP for NEPA and ESA compliance.

2. What most concerns you about the status of fish and wildlife and their habitats in Arizona?

Top concerns included:

  • Wildlife and habitat connectivity

  • Climate change

  • Invasive plants and animals

  • Habitat degradation

  • Water (quality and quantity)

  • Wildfire

  • Degradation of riparian habitats

  • Disease issues

  • Increasing development

  • Impacts of non-native fish species

  • The need for a broader social understanding of trade-offs between natural resources and economic and social values

  • Lack of resources to manage species when they become listed

3. What has changed in Arizona in the past decade that could potentially affect how AZGFD thinks about and plans for its fish and wildlife populations and their habitats?

Top concerns included:

  • Climate change

  • Invasive and non-native species

  • Development

  • Human population growth and activities

  • Regulatory environment

 4. What priority issues/strategies/approaches would you like to see in the new iteration of the AWCS?

Responses included:

  • Outreach and education

  • Prioritize conservation efforts for wildlife and their habitats

  • Increased accessibility/training to AWCS tools and data

  • Expanded partnerships and collaborations

 5. What tools could you use to better integrate information on Arizona’s fish and wildlife and their habitats into your projects and planning?

Types of tools/information suggested:

  • Climate scenarios

  • Invasive species

  • Historical data (showing change to distribution over time)

  • Restoration project and mitigation lands data layers

  • Species abstracts

  • Resources to help identify what conservation strategies work together and which do not

  • AZGFD liaisons at universities

 Suggestions for data accessibility:

  • Develop data that are usable for regional planners

  • Develop interactive viewer to better understand trends on the ground

  • Identify priority areas for restoration

  • Make it more accessible to the general public

 6. Describe one or more goals the AWCS could emphasize to achieve mutual outcomes.

Responses included:

  • Ensuring the AWCS aligns with existing conservation plans (i.e. USFS plans, city comprehensive plans)

  • Connectivity and wildlife corridor management

  • Ensure Tribes are part of the discussion for management objectives

  • Train the next generation of students with the AWCS

 7. What else could AZGFD do better with entities to achieve their goals and ensure the health of fish and wildlife in Arizona?

Responses included:

  • Fund students and county liaison positions

  • Improve coordination with partners

  • Increase coordination with ASLD as well as USFS and BLM

  • Engage more with industry as a conservation partner

  • Use the AWCS to increase messaging of conservation priorities

  • Meet annually to review the AWCS with stakeholders and discuss ways to improve the strategy and tools

 In April of 2021, AZGFD convened three additional focus groups to share the outcomes of the initial focus group discussions that occurred in November 2020. The purpose of these new focus groups was to review and summarize those initial talks and discuss how the recommendations would be implemented into the AWCS. Attendees of this second round of focus groups included our partners from:

  • Federal Agencies: USFWS, USBR, USFS, NPS, Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, Fort Huachuca

  • Native American Tribes: Navajo Nation, Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Hopi Tribe

  • Academia: Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona

  • Local Government: City of Peoria, City of Flagstaff, Pima County, Navajo County, Pinal County, Maricopa County, Big Sandy NRCS

  • NGOs: Tucson Audubon Society, Phoenix Zoo, Trout Unlimited, Willow Creek Environment, The Nature Conservancy, Be Outdoors Arizona, Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, Borderlands Restoration Network, Audubon Southwest, McDowell-Sonoran Preserve, Sierra Club

  • Industry: Asarco Silver Bell Mining

Integration into the AWCS Revision

The public outreach and stakeholder forum processes were opportunities for AZGFD staff to engage with the many partners that are a critical part of the AWCS revision process. These discussions and surveys proved to be extremely valuable to help inform the AWCS and make sure we’re meeting mutual outcomes for all. These outreach efforts contributed to the following changes to the AWCS:

  •  Greater emphasis on identification of threats to species and their habitats and addressing these threats through specific conservation actions. The AWCS contains an extensive chapter detailing the most prescient threats facing wildlife and their habitats. We also added a chapter that details threats and identifies conservation actions by habitat type that can be taken to remedy threats.

  • Creating prioritized conservation opportunity areas. We developed an exhaustive network of Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs) throughout the state that identify the best areas for conservation actions. This web-based tool will be available on the AWCS website after launching in 2022. These COAs not only identify areas of conservation but also foster on-the-ground collaborations with our partners.

  • Increased visibility and interaction with the AWCS. The AWCS website and on-line tools will greatly increase awareness with the strategy and encourage more public involvement with the AWCS moving forward.

  • Emphasis on climate change stressors. In order to meet the threats and challenges posed by a changing climate, we’ve added sections in each habitat profile that address climate change stressors, bringing additional emphasis to what the public and partners view as an increasing threat to wildlife and their habitats.

  • Implement AWCS training. As part of our overall strategy, once the AWCS website and tools launch in 2022, we will be implementing trainings, presentations, and other public outreach efforts to ensure the public, governments, industry, and other partners are fully engaged with the AWCS and taking advantage of its many benefits.