Public comments sought on Environmental Assessment for continued fish stocking in Arizona

Proposal would continue federal funding to support AZGFD sport fish stocking program

PHOENIX — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) on May 11, 2021, made available for public review a draft Environmental Assessment (dEA) of Arizona’s sport fish stocking program.

The dEA is part of a process to continue to allow federal Sport Fish Restoration funding to support AZGFD’s long-standing program of stocking fish for public recreational opportunities, and for hatchery operations and maintenance. The deadline to submit comments is 5 p.m. (Arizona time) on June 11, 2021.

Each year, thousands of anglers in Arizona take advantage of the fish stocking program, which is funded in part by federal dollars from the Sport Fish Restoration Program and augmented by state dollars from fishing license sales.

Every 10 years, USFWS and AZGFD evaluate the social, economic and environmental effects of Arizona’s stocking program, and pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), prepare a dEA that analyzes possible actions or alternatives. The preferred alternative for the agencies, also known as the Proposed Action, would allow AZGFD to continue its stocking program for the next 10 years and also includes conservation measures to reduce potential impacts on federally listed or sensitive native aquatic or semi-aquatic species.

Members of the public are encouraged to review and provide comments on the dEA. Written comments can be submitted from May 11, 2021 through 5 p.m. (Arizona time) on June 11, 2021. Comments can be either:

  • Emailed to fw2fa@fws.gov, or
  • Sent by U.S. Mail to Arizona Game and Fish Department, Attention Dave Weedman, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086 (must be postmarked no later than June 11, 2021).

Your written comments—including personal identifying information, such as name, address, phone number, and email address—may be made publicly available at any time. While you may ask that personal identifying information be withheld from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

An informational event on the dEA will be held via Facebook Live at 6 p.m. (Arizona time) on June 1 and 6 p.m. on June 2 at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fishaz/about.

This information is also posted at https://www.azgfd.com/Fishing/FisheriesManagement/.

Additional information

Recreational angling in Arizona created a statewide economic impact of more than $1.4 billion in 2013, according to the 2013 Economic Impact of Fishing in Arizona by Responsive Management (the last year such a survey was done). In fiscal year 2020, AZGFD sold 273,902 fishing licenses, generating revenue of nearly $14 million. During the last six years, AZGFD has stocked approximately 3 million fish per year. The majority of stockings were cold water species, such as Rainbow, Apache, Brook, Cutthroat, and Brown Trout. The AZGFD also stocked warm water species including Channel Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, Redear Sunfish, and Bluegill.

In 2013, there were 5,979,637 angler days of fishing in Arizona. Sport Fish Restoration funding will make it possible for AZGFD to continue to meet part of this demand for public recreational angling opportunities on Arizona’s waters.

 

NOTE: If you have questions on this project, many of the answers can be found in the Bison Reduction FAQs section found on the National Park Service / Grand Canyon National Park website. That section will have links to two other sections: Skilled Volunteer FAQs and Firearm FAQs.

If after reading all three documents you still have questions, they can be emailed to grca_bison_info@nps.gov.

The application period opens at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, May 3, and runs until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, at https://www.azbisonstewards.com/.

 

See the NEWS RELEASE from Grand Canyon National Park.

See the April 2021 Fishing Report HERE.

 

PHOENIX — The deadline for the public to submit comments on the alternative proposal to amend rules within Article 3 (Taking and Handling of Wildlife) to regulate the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife is Sunday, April 11. Comments can be submitted by email at rulemaking@azgfd.gov.

The Arizona Game and Fish 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 February 1 through June 30 as long as the camera is not placed within ¼ mile of a developed water source.

This new proposed language presented in February does not replace the December proposed rule, but provides the commission with options to consider at the conclusion of both rulemaking processes.

View UPDATED INFORMATION about the two rule proposals (the document also includes an overview of comments received related to the December proposed rule – see second bullet down). A link to the document is also posted at https://www.azgfd.com/Agency/Commission/commissioncorner/.

The final rulemaking for both proposals will be heard at the June 11 commission meeting in Payson. At that meeting, the commission can approve either of the two final rules or terminate rulemaking altogether. Any change to the current trail camera rule will not go into effect prior to Jan. 1, 2022.
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To view proposed rule amendments, track the progress of rules, view the regulatory agenda and all previous Five-Year Review Reports, and to learn about any other agency rulemaking matters, visit https://www.azgfd.com/agency/rulemaking/.

LEES FERRY, Ariz. — Anglers can earn cash rewards and bonuses for participating in the Brown Trout Bonanza on the stretch of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and the Paria River, beginning April 1 and running through May 2.

The Bonanza is sponsored by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in partnership with the Glen Canyon Conservancy. It is part of the Brown Trout Incentivized Harvest Program that began in November 2020 with the offer of a $25 reward for each brown trout turned in over 6 inches. The goal of this program is to determine if the Incentivized Harvest by anglers can help manage and reduce the number of brown trout in this stretch of the Colorado River to help protect native fish species downstream.

Beginning April 1, there is now a $33 reward for each brown trout captured as well as these additional incentives during the Bonanza:

  • Bonus of $50 for each scientific pit tag turned in with brown trout
  • Golden ticked bonus of $300 for each scientific sonic tag turned in
  • $250 bonus for best photography of one or more brown trout captured
  • $250 bonus for best video of a a brown trout being captured at Lees Ferry
  • $50 bonus for each three fish turned in during the month
  • $500 bonus for the most brown trout submitted between April 1 and May 2

In mid-May 2021, the rewards and bonuses will be paid out to participating anglers by the Glen Canyon Conservancy, which is administering the program for the park. There is no limit on the number of brown trout that can be harvested and turned in for the reward and bonuses during this month-long kick-off event. To participate in the Brown Trout Bonanza program, anglers must have a valid Arizona fishing license. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks are allowed. Arizona fishing licenses can be purchased at https://www.azgfd.com/License/. The Arizona Game and Fish Department fishing regulations can be found at: https://www.azgfd.com/fishing/regulations.

For more information about the Bonanza rules and bonuses, as well as the Incentivized Harvest of Brown Trout reward, please visit the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area website at https://www.nps.gov/glca/learn/news/20210310.htm.

Background
The brown trout population in the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and the Paria River has steadily increased since 2014. As adults, brown trout primarily feed on other fish, threatening downstream native fish species. The Incentivized Harvest management option was favored during a public review of potential brown trout mitigation tools when compared with other tools, such as intensive mechanical removal of brown trout or efforts to disturb brown trout spawning.

PINETOP, Ariz. — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) will allow up to 50 vehicles to access Silver Creek for the April 1 opening of the “catch and keep” trout season. Limited access may continue until April 5 dependent on crowds. The “catch and keep” trout season will continue until September 30.

The Department is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) to ensure social distancing and limit large gatherings. Following the departure of initial vehicles, additional vehicles will be allowed entry to Silver Creek as space becomes available.

Anglers should take note that statewide fishing regulations for 2021-2022 have amended the statewide trout bag limit to four trout per person. The four trout bag limit applies to “catch and keep” at Silver Creek.

To offer an alternative fishing destination, AZGFD will stock Show Low Creek Meadow. Show Low Creek Meadow is a part of the community fishing program that does have special regulations. The daily trout bag limit is two trout per person, instead of the statewide bag limit of four.

“On April 1, we encourage anglers wanting to avoid a crowd to utilize Show Low Creek Meadow for a great, alternative fishing opportunity,” said Ryan Follmuth, AZGFD’s aquatic wildlife program manager for the Pinetop region.

Regardless of where anglers fish, AZGFD encourages everyone to continue practicing social distancing and spread out along the shoreline to catch those big rainbow trout.

See the March 2021 Fishing Report HERE.

 

Public comment period on new proposed rule runs March 11 through April 11

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is seeking public comment on an alternative proposal to amend rules within Article 3, Taking and Handling of Wildlife, to regulate the use of trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife.

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 February 1 through June 30 as long as the camera is not placed within ¼ mile of a developed water source.

This new proposed language presented in February does not replace the December proposed rule, but provides the commission with options to consider at the conclusion of both rulemaking processes.

View UPDATED INFORMATION about the two rule proposals (this document also includes an overview of comments received related to the December proposed rule – see second bullet down). A link to the document is also posted at https://www.azgfd.com/Agency/Commission/commissioncorner/.

Public comments related to the February rulemaking proposal are being accepted by email at rulemaking@azgfd.gov from March 11 through April 11, 2021.

The final rulemaking for the December proposal will not be heard at the March 19 commission meeting as previously anticipated. The final rulemaking for both proposals will be heard at the June 11 commission meeting in Payson. At that meeting, the commission can approve either of the two final rules or terminate rulemaking altogether. Any change to the current trail camera rule will not go into effect prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

To view proposed rule amendments, track the progress of rules, view the regulatory agenda and all previous Five-Year Review Reports, and to learn about any other agency rulemaking matters, visit https://www.azgfd.com/agency/rulemaking/.

 

2020 survey shows at least 186 wolves across the Southwest

Joint news release:
Arizona Game and Fish Department
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The wild population of Mexican wolves in the United States saw its fifth consecutive year of growth in 2020. According to the recent count, the U.S. population of Mexican wolves has increased by 14% since last year, raising the total number of wolves in the wild to a minimum of 186 animals.

From November 2020 through January 2021, the Interagency Field Team (IFT) conducted ground counts in Arizona and New Mexico that concluded with aerial counts of Mexican wolves in January and February. According to the IFT, the 186 wolves are distributed with 114 in New Mexico and 72 in Arizona. In 2019, the team documented a minimum of 163 wolves, which was a 24% increase from 2018. This population has nearly doubled in size over the last five years.

“With careful planning and using best practices, we were able to conduct the annual survey with the utmost emphasis on the health and safety of our staff,” said Brady McGee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator. “Thanks to our staff’s efforts, we were able to document a minimum of 64 pups surviving in the wild last year. Pup production and recruitment in the wild population is extremely important to the recovery of this species. We are thrilled to see this number continuing to rise.”

Among the 2020 findings:

  • There were a minimum of 46 packs (including new pairs) documented at the end of 2020: 29 in New Mexico and 17 in Arizona, plus five single wolves in Arizona. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves that maintain an established territory. By comparison, there were a minimum of 42 packs at the end of 2019.
  • A minimum of 124 pups were born in 2020, with at least 64 surviving until the end of the year (a 52% survival rate). The average survival of Mexican wolf pups is around 50%.
  • The IFT recorded a minimum of 20 breeding pairs (12 in New Mexico, eight in Arizona) with pups in 2020.
  • There were 96 collared wolves in the wild at the end of the year, which is slightly more than 50% of the wild population. These radio collars use satellite technology to accurately record wolf locations on a frequent basis. Biologists on the IFT use this information to gain timely information about wolf behavior in the wild and assist with management of the wild population.
  • The IFT documented 29 mortalities in the wild population of Mexican wolves in 2020, which is similar to the mortality rate in 2019 given the growing population.
  • This year’s survey represents not only an all-time record number of wolves in the wild but also the most ever breeding pairs, wild packs, pups born in the wild, and pups surviving to the end of the year.

“Many people eagerly await the results of the annual Mexican wolf count. As has been the case for a decade, this year’s result signals success in recovery of this element of the Southwest’s biodiversity and offers hope of eventually meeting recovery goals,” said Clay Crowder, Assistant Director, Wildlife Management Division, Arizona Game and Fish Department. “With continued year-over-year increases in the United States, it is important to recognize that Mexico is key to full recovery, and more attention is needed in support of efforts there.”

In 2020, the IFT placed 20 captive-born pups into seven wild dens (a process called “cross fostering”) to boost the genetic diversity in the wild population. The IFT has since captured and collared seven of these pups and will continue efforts in 2021 to document others that may have survived. With these newly collared pups, the known number of fostered wolves alive is 12.

The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. It is listed separately from the gray wolf as an endangered subspecies under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 1977, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and many partners initiated efforts to conserve the subspecies by developing a bi-national captive breeding program with the seven remaining Mexican wolves in existence. Approximately 350 Mexican wolves are currently maintained in more than 55 facilities throughout the United States and Mexico.

Partners in Mexican wolf recovery in the United States include the Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, USDA Forest Service, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service.

For more information on the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, visit the Mexican wolf website (www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf) or visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department website on wolves (www.azgfd.gov/wolf).

 

Left: Moss ball and zebra mussels. Right: Zebra mussels on propeller.

Pet stores urged to remove product from shelves; consumers should follow disposal guidelines

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), along with wildlife agencies across the country, are urging pet stores and aquarium owners to take action now to contain any “moss ball” plants designed for aquariums after invasive zebra mussels were found on these products in Arizona as well as other states. This is a national invasive species emergency and evolving situation.

Arizona officials were alerted about this situation after reports from the state of Washington indicated zebra mussels were discovered attached to a moss ball plant at a local Petco store. The moss balls are a species of algae that form green balls up to a few inches in diameter and are sold as an aquarium plant under names such as “Beta Buddy Marimo Balls,” “Mini Marimo Moss Balls,” and “Marimo Moss Ball Plant.” They may be sold separately or provided with the sale of Betta fish. These moss balls are believed to have been imported from the Ukraine, where the zebra mussels are a native species, and distributed across the U.S.

The concern is the zebra mussels that have been distributed with the moss balls can be easily overlooked. The larval life stage of the mussels (veligers) are microscopic. The water the moss balls are in can contain viable veligers and adult mussels, which if released into Arizona’s waters can have devastating consequences.

“Zebra mussels can pose a significant risk to Arizona’s waters, so we urge anyone who may have recently purchased these products to follow disposal directions and most importantly, not to release the plants, mussels, or contaminated water into any drain or water source, including streams, canals, ponds, and lakes” said Julie Carter, AZGFD Aquatic Wildlife Branch Chief.

Guidelines for Consumers – DESTROY, DISPOSE, DRAIN
The Arizona Game and Fish Department urges anyone that purchased the moss balls from any retailer to Destroy! Don’t Dump!

DESTROY in one of three ways:

  • Freeze – Place the moss ball into a sealable plastic bag and freeze for at least 24 hours.
  • Boil – Place the moss ball in boiling water for at least 1 full minute.
  • Bleach or Vinegar – Submerge the moss ball in chlorine bleach or undiluted white vinegar for 20 minutes.

DISPOSE of the moss ball and any of its packaging in a sealed plastic bag in the trash. If vinegar, boiling water, or bleach was used, the liquid can be disposed of down a household drain—never down a storm drain, where it could enter and damage local waterways. Do not dispose of the moss balls in drains, waterways, or gardens.

DRAIN and clean the aquarium.
Collect any fish or other living organisms and place them in another container, with water from a separate, uncontaminated water source. Sterilize the contaminated aquarium water by adding ¼ teaspoon bleach for each gallon of water. Let the water sit for 10 minutes and then dispose of the sterilized water down a household drain.

Clean the aquarium and accessories using one of the following methods, ensuring that the disposal method you choose is in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations:
1. Hot Water Method:
– Use water that is 140 degrees F to flush and coat the tank and all accessory surfaces for at least one minute, OR
2. Disinfection Method:
– Submerge the moss ball in 1 cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 10 minutes or undiluted white vinegar for 20 minutes.
– Soak the aquarium, substrate, rocks, décor, and filter media in the bleach water solution for 10 minutes.
– Rinse off all items prior to setting up the aquarium.
– Dispose of the previously used filter media and replace with new media.
– Use a dechlorinating product to neutralize any residual chlorine prior to reintroducing aquatic life.

It is recommended that you do another water change within a week and continue to monitor the tank for any unusual or unexpected aquatic life.

For more detailed instructions, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Guidelines for Pet Industry
Pet stores are urged to remove the product and any aquaria that have come into contact with the moss balls and quarantine them until further notice. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is working closely with other state agencies to remove the product from shelves until the best course of action can be taken. Guidance for the pet industry is in development and will be released soon.

What Risk Do Zebra Mussels Pose?
Zebra mussels are invasive freshwater mollusks. They are small, but very destructive. Although they have not yet been detected in Arizona waters, they are similar to invasive quagga mussels, which were first detected in Arizona in 2007. Both can quickly become established in a waterbody and cause millions of dollars in damage to boats and water intake pipes while creating significant ecological harm to native mussels, fishes, and other aquatic wildlife. As such, the help of the public is needed to maximize efforts to prevent the introduction and establishment of these destructive mussels in our state.

“Currently, there is not a known established population of zebra mussels in Arizona waters, and the public’s cooperation is necessary to keep it that way. These steps will help prevent invasive species from spreading and ensure we protect Arizona’s waters for ourselves and future generations,” said Kate Dukette, AZGFD Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is working together with other state and federal agricultural and wildlife agencies to address this development. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

For more information on invasive mussels and other aquatic invasive species, visit www.azgfd.gov/AIS.

Pleasant Harbor July_Sept 2016