Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

2. Biological Resource Use

Consumptive use of natural resources such as hunting, fishing, timber harvest, and collecting wildlife for management, research and cultural purposes is part of sustainable management. These activities also help preserve our own heritage and instill multi-generational appreciation and care for the natural world. However, in some cases, these activities can have negative effects on nongame fish and wildlife species, as well as wildlife habitat. In addition, while managed and permitted consumption of wildlife is legal and part of the very fabric of Arizona’s history, illegal collection of wildlife is of considerable concern for some of our state’s most rare and at-risk species.

Timber Harvest

Forest bird communities are generally sensitive to changes in stand structure and vegetation composition (Dykstra et al. 1997). Many SGCN birds, including the northern goshawk, spotted owl, evening grosbeak, Cassin's finch, Townsend's solitaire, hermit thrush, Grace's warbler, red-faced warbler, western purple martin, Clark's nutcracker, red crossbill, and northern flicker are all vulnerable to timber harvest, with the level of vulnerability depending on the method and extent of harvest. Some species prefer mature trees and cool microhabitats for foraging and nesting, attributes that are often removed from the landscape during harvest. Other negative effects can include reduced species richness, altered community composition, and decreased nest success (Sallabanks and Arnett 2005). Meanwhile, forest-dependent and cavity-nesting bird species are negatively-affected by forest thinning and timber harvest due to reductions of large snags and loss of habitat and primary food sources.

For example, the threatened Mexican spotted owl is a species that may be negatively-affected by timber harvest, because it prefers old-growth, closed-canopy mixed conifer forest as well as deep canyons. The species experienced population declines in the 1980s in the southwest as timber harvest, forest thinning, and wildfire reduced old-growth forest (Ganey and Balda 1989). As part of the USFWS Mexican Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, management strategies were developed and included establishing Protected Activity Areas (PACS) surrounding known owl nest, roost sites, and recovery habitat. Efforts such as this are designed to reduce negative impacts from continued timber harvest and stand-replacing wildfires on national forest lands. The AWCS helps foster the implementation of these and other recovery and management plans for SGCN. by providing recommendations for conservation actions, highlighting areas where conservation efforts would be most effective (COAs), and offering other tools for the public and our partners to achieve conservation goals for SGCN.

Collection and Harvest of Wildlife

Because of Arizona’s rich and unique amphibian and reptile diversity, our state is extremely popular among “herpers,” the enthusiasts who enjoy searching for, photographing, and sometimes collecting  these animals. These wildlife enthusiasts come from all over Arizona and other states and countries,  hoping to see species that may not occur outside of  Arizona or the southwest. The observations, photos, and records they often share with us can contribute to our ability to manage some species more effectively.

Unfortunately, Arizona’s unique fauna also appeals to individuals who want to collect animals for the illegal pet trade. Some of the most popular species that are collected illegally include rattlesnakes such as the Arizona black, banded rock, ridge-nosed, speckled, and twin-spotted rattlesnakes. Mountain kingsnakes, rosy boas, Gila monsters, Madrean alligator lizards, horned lizards, Sonoran green toads, and Sonoran desert toads are also popular targets for poachers. While there is no evidence of population effects from legal collection (i.e. for licensed recreation or scientific purposes), illegal collecting has certainly threatened local populations of some species that are highly prized in the pet trade (Jones and Goode, 2020).

In addition to the reptiles listed above, there is a very high demand for turtles in the illicit global trade for pets, food, medicinal markets, and products. In the U.S., box turtles comprise the largest number in the illegal pet trade, primarily due to the bright yellow lines radiating in sunburst patterns on their shell, and their relatively small size. To protect ornate box Turtles, AZGFD has prohibited collection from the wild since 2006.

Although not a widespread recreational activity, falconry is practiced in Arizona and is regulated by AZGFD. Harris’s hawks are the number one raptor harvested for falconry in Arizona. Although harvest rates are established by AZGFD Commission Order 25 to prevent over-harvest, collecting young Harris’s hawks for falconry is still considered a threat to this SGCN raptor, mostly due to the persistence of illegal, unpermitted harvesting.

Predator Management

Predators play an important role in any ecosystem. However, these species can sometimes have adverse impacts to populations of prey species, some of which may be SGCN such as the American pronghorn. Other species impacted by predators may be of high economic or recreational value such as mule deer or elk. Predator management is a vital wildlife management tool that AZGFD uses to find that delicate balance between predator and prey populations. When necessary, AZGFD manages predator species for various reasons, such as reducing human-wildlife conflict, managing prey populations for ecological or recreational purposes, and reducing adverse effects on other wildlife populations.

Predator management can often be controversial and AZGFD recognizes the diverse opinions on the matter. To find the balance between social, economic, and recreational concerns over predators, AZGFD implements targeted, area-specific predator management plans. Examples of these targeted management actions include managing specific areas where bighorn sheep or pronghorn translocations will occur or implementing predator management in areas where AZGFD wildlife populations are below management objectives due to predation.

Hunting and Fishing

As the state’s wildlife agency, AZGFD carefully manages game species and sport fish to maintain healthy populations and to allow for wildlife-oriented recreational opportunities. Hunting and fishing are regulated to ensure sustainable population levels preventing game and sport fish species from experiencing significant population fluctuations. Internal coordination with nongame and native aquatics programs ensure that the needs of SGCN are considered and addressed through integrated wildlife and fisheries management plans.