Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Introduction to the AWCS

In 2001, a decade-long initiative involving a coalition of more than 3,000 conservation organizations from across the United States recognized the need for additional proactive wildlife conservation, culminating with the passage of federal legislation that established the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program. Since the program was first implemented, SWG funds have been used to support conservation activities intended to “keep the common species common,” thereby preventing species from declining to the point that they need protection under the ESA, and to assist in recovery of those species that were already listed. Under this program, SWG funds are used to conserve wildlife and their habitats, as well as related recreational and educational activities. In order to qualify for SWG funding, every state and territory is required to develop a state wildlife action plan (SWAP) that details the actions necessary to keep common species common. Our action plan — now known as the Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy (AWCS) — is the third iteration of Arizona’s SWAP for conserving and protecting fish and wildlife resources.

In the subsequent years since the original SWAP was published, we have seen many successes, the development of some new challenges, and the creation of new opportunities as conditions throughout Arizona’s landscapes continue to change. The population of the state has grown considerably, rising nearly 12% from an estimated 6.4 million in 2010 to nearly 7.2 million in 2020 (US Census Bureau 2020). To meet these changes, we continue to expand the scope and scale of the AWCS to address current issues and incorporate new data, and we expand the focus of the plan to a more inclusive strategy that seeks to conserve and protect all of Arizona’s wildlife.

This integrated, data-driven approach allows us to protect and restore habitats across the landscape that benefit all species while attending to the needs of individual species where appropriate. This strategy allows us to produce the best outcomes while maximizing the conservation benefit of limited conservation dollars. As the AWCS guides our conservation work over the next decade, we will continue to engage and collaborate with the public, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and all who hold a stake in maintaining healthy wildlife populations for generations of Arizonans to come.

Key Changes for the AWCS

Each iteration of a SWAP sees various updates to better reflect changing conditions to wildlife and their habitats, as well as the availability of new information and conservation methods. Today, the AWCS contains many key changes since the last action plan was published in 2012, and with these changes come improvements to our 10-year strategy. These changes include:

  • Expanding the scope of the strategy to include all of Arizona’s wildlife, while continuing to acknowledge that rare and vulnerable species require significant attention.

  • Providing improved utility through a series of habitat profiles that identify the relationships between species and their environment; identifying threats to species and their habitats, and recommending specific actions to address or eliminate threats within each of the major habitat types.

  • Encouraging all citizens to connect with the natural environment by identifying potential collaborative conservation efforts, creating a community with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for our shared natural resources.

  • Aligning with agency long-term strategic vision, resource management plans, and targeted conservation plans to “keep common species common.” 

  • Offering an enhanced website and decision-support tools so Arizonans can better engage with AZGFD’s long-term conservation strategy and participate in collaborative conservation efforts throughout the state.

The AWCS includes a broad range of conservation targets while still maintaining emphasis on the conservation of uncommon or at-risk species. This new approach further recognizes the interconnectedness of species and their environment, the effects of threats on the larger landscape, and the value in working collectively toward common goals. The AWCS also provides resources and tools to effectively plan for and manage conservation programs targeting not only fish and wildlife species, but the diverse landscapes across Arizona.

The AWCS does not provide operational level direction, rather it serves as an overarching plan to guide the development of operations, implementation, and management plans. The agencies and organizations that participated in the development of the AWCS are responsible for or involved in different levels of conservation for which they have developed management plans that address specific conservation targets in greater detail. The AWCS does not in any way invalidate those plans or detract from partner efforts to manage their lands and resources effectively.

Striving to provide a platform for conservation, prioritization, and action, the AWCS focuses on building partnerships by identifying common goals and shared priorities. Our collective efforts will result in greater benefits for species and healthier ecological systems that function to support wildlife and provide diverse recreational opportunities for all citizens.

Funding for Conservation

Wildlife conservation in Arizona is funded through several different sources, and the work is accomplished by partnerships between government agencies and the conservation community. Much of this funding has traditionally come from hunting and fishing groups and funds administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Some of these funding sources include:

The Pittman-Robertson Fund is made available to state wildlife agencies through the Federal Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. The Act was established in response to concern over decreasing wildlife populations throughout the United States. Pittman-Robertson funds are generated through excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. The funds are distributed annually and may be used for a variety of activities, including restoring bird and mammal populations and to acquire, develop, and manage wildlife habitat.

The Dingell-Johnson Fund was established in 1950 as part of the Sportfish Restoration Act. Funds are generated through an excise tax on fishing gear, equipment, and certain types of fuel. Funds are distributed to state wildlife agencies to be utilized for habitat acquisition and restoration, sportfish stocking, research, surveys, boating access facilities, and educational programs.

The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Section 6 of the ESA) is a tool that provides limited amounts of funding to states and territories to participate in a wide array of voluntary conservation projects for candidate, proposed, and listed species. The program also provides funding to states and territories for species and habitat conservation actions on non-federal lands.

In Arizona, two funding sources have been indispensable in providing for conservation work targeting our state’s at-risk species, including our SGCN: 

  • The Heritage Fund was created through the efforts of a broad coalition of Arizona citizens. It designates up to $10 million each year from lottery ticket sales that go to support the conservation and protection of the state’s wildlife and natural areas. Heritage Fund dollars help us manage our rich wildlife diversity, including threatened and endangered species. The Heritage Fund is also used to help urban residents coexist with wildlife, to educate the public about the environment and wildlife conservation, and to create new opportunities and provide access for outdoor recreation, such as wildlife viewing. Over the years, Heritage funding has also conserved nearly 18,000 acres for public enjoyment and wildlife conservation and establishment of wildlife areas.

  • The State Wildlife Grants program (SWG) was established in 2002 in response to the growing need for a source of wildlife conservation funding specifically targeting nongame species. An emphasis of the program is on identification and proactive management of at-risk species (those identified as SGCN) and preventing them from declining to the point that they need protection under the ESA. 

In addition to the funding sources mentioned above, AZGFD has aggressively sought ways to augment these primary federal/state funds by pursuing other conservation-focused funding sources, such as those available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) can be leveraged, in partnership with an agricultural producer, to provide mutually-beneficial habitat improvements on the ground. Many of these grants, including Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson, and Section 6 ESA funding require non-federal matching funds typically at a 3:1 ratio. To acquire these matching funds, AZGFD works with our partners for “in-kind” match — such as volunteer work — that can be credited toward a project’s overall value, or donations such as the Nongame Checkoff on state tax returns, a voluntary program which allows Arizona taxpayers to donate to wildlife conservation through their annual state tax return. Regardless of the matching source, all federal funding has specific eligibility requirements and must be pre-approved through an annual work plan.