New state law opens up tracts of undeveloped public lands within municipalities.
PHOENIX – Thanks to new laws passed by the Arizona Legislature this past session and actions by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission on Saturday, June 25, dove hunters will find it simpler this year determining where it is legal to hunt after the season opens Sept. 1.
Senate Bill 1334 prohibits municipalities and counties from enacting any ordinance, rule or regulation limiting the take of wildlife during an open season established by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
SB1334 also amends state law (Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3107) by permitting the discharge of a firearm within the limits of any municipality while lawfully taking wildlife during an open season established by the Game and Fish Commission. This new law takes effect July 20.
However, nothing in SB1334 prohibits municipalities from regulating the discharge of firearms within a quarter mile of occupied structures.
Decisions Up To AZGFD
Basically, these new laws leave the decision making of where people can legally hunt in the experienced hands of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. But hunters can’t expect carte blanche — the Game and Fish Commission is taking a conservative, thoughtful approach in its deployment of these shifted or modified authorities.
“It’s a balancing act. We wanted to maximize hunting opportunity while at the same time minimizing potential conflicts, said Commission Chairman Robert Woodhouse, who is from Yuma. “We also considered geo-political realities, recognizing that one size does not necessarily fit all within the various municipal boundaries, as each locale is unique.”
For instance, based on the department’s studied evaluation, the Game and Fish Commission has closed a well-defined densely populated core area within the Valley of the Sun to hunting.
The boundaries of this area, which crosses multiple municipal boundaries, are well defined by major roadways, making it much simpler for hunters, municipal leaders and law enforcement officers to determine where hunting is legal. The Base and Meridian wildlife area and a couple of small county islands within this closure area will remain open to hunting dove with shotgun shooting shot.
All restrictions in Arizona Revised Statutes Title 17 (the state game laws) apply, such as not hunting within ¼ mile of an occupied building and not shooting from or across a roadway.
In addition, municipal hunt management units created by the commission, such as those in the Valley of the Sun, Tucson and Flagstaff, also impose certain restrictions on hunting, especially for the use of firearms while taking wildlife. For instance, within the greater Phoenix metropolitan units, the legal firearms for hunting doves are restricted to the use of shotguns, shooting shot.
The first commission order adopted since the passage of this law establishes the 2011 season on dove, which is a migratory bird that also falls under certain federal hunting constraints and guidelines. The commission unanimously approved the dove season at its June 25 meeting.
Leonard Ordway, assistant director for the Field Operations Division, pointed out that in the past, dove hunters — especially those in the Valley of the Sun where there are lots of different municipal boundaries to contend with — often found it difficult or sometimes even impossible to determine where one could legally hunt dove.
Ordway said the change in the law will make it easier for dove hunters to determine where they can hunt, and will also once again open up tracts of uninhabited and undeveloped public and State Trust land within municipalities to hunting.
“For example, hunters will find the return of hunting opportunities on those large areas of open land that have been annexed but won’t be developed for years, or those highly productive yet un-posted agricultural lands within municipalities,” he said.
Ordway said this is especially important for families. “This new approach to hunting in municipalities makes it simpler for parents to take their youngsters hunting, quite often closer to home, so they can re-connect with nature. This is truly a quality of life improvement for outdoor families now, and will help in passing on the hunting and outdoor tradition to future generations.”
Working Closely Together
The commission and department will be working closely with counties, municipalities, chiefs of police and other major stakeholders to continue taking a thoughtful and cooperative approach to hunting within municipalities.
“In the past, chiefs of police had the authority to approve or to close areas to discharge of firearms, thus closing what would otherwise be lawful hunting within municipal boundaries,” said Commissioner John W. Harris, a veteran law enforcement officer who is currently the police chief of Sahuarita. “Even though such authority with regard to hunting has shifted to the capable hands of the Game and Fish Commission, the commission and the department will work closely with chiefs of police and other municipal leaders to thoughtfully and properly address concerns.”
Keep in mind that the dove commission order is just the first step. In August, the commission will consider recommendations for modifying all the commission orders so these new laws and authorities can be fully implemented.
“The department and commission have a long-standing track record of utilizing adaptive management principals not just within biology frameworks, but also within public administration venues as well,” said Ordway. “When it comes to hunting within municipalities, we expect to adapt and evolve while working cooperatively with other government entities and our outdoor stakeholders.”
Detailed regulations and boundaries are anticipated to be available in mid-July at www.azgfd.gov.
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