Jay Cook Arizona Game and Fish room shot

Jay Cook from Arizona Game and Fish announced the expansion of the department’s outreach program. Game and Fish hopes to partner with hotels and other businesses that cater to folks who enjoy the wildlife of the area.

The pandemic brought more people out into the Arizona wilderness than ever before and no organization saw that more than the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Last year, AZGFD sold more licenses for fishing, hunting, boating and off-road vehicles than ever before, said Jay Cook, with statewide community engagement at AZGFD.

He and Scott Laven came to the April 20 Rim Country chamber luncheon to advocate for a new pilot program to help the public learn to recreate safely in the Arizona wilderness.

Their concern is prior to the pandemic, interest in the outdoors by the youth “had been flatlining and decreasing.”

“Kids are staying home and playing video games and starting to lose interest in the outdoors,” said Cook.

This has AZGFD concerned about the future.

“There are kids who will never step off of concrete,” said Laven, “(but) to go out in the woods and be confident, you have to surrounded by positive support.”

In the past, AZGFD relied on family and friends to teach outdoor skills to their children, then inspire them to get outside. But as more families come from urban areas, they have not been taught how to hunt, fish or recreate in the wild. Most don’t understand how those activities can promote conservation or health, either.

So, AZGFD created education programs.

Lots of them.

“We actually have a K-12 curriculum,” said Cook.

The organization hosts camps and events to immerse families in outdoor recreation.

“What we found, it is not just enough to have an event,” said Laven. “You gotta have mom involved.”

The AZGFD created events like the annual Wildlife Fair to introduce animals and outdoor activities to kids and their families.

Other education programs teach boating safety, sport fishing, trapping, off-road vehicle, and bow hunting skills and safety.

The AZGFD hunter education programs teach the “ins and outs of hunting – seasons, rules, regulations, areas you can hunt, using a firearm, (and) what you do after you take an animal” with the idea that “with a little practice, these become ordinary understandings/knowledge,” wrote AZGF on its website.

But the problem remains, how does AZGFD get the public to know these resources exist?

Cook told businesses at the April 20 chamber luncheon, AZGFD will launch a pilot program in Rim Country to get the word out.

“We want a mutual collaboration,” said Cook. “Local businesses, even real estate, can help us promote our outdoor education support. We want to work as a big team. We believe it is a benefit.”

The idea is to create partnerships with local businesses to encourage visitors to learn how to take advantage of the area’s great hunting, fishing and outdoor activity.

“We have to change, like any business,” said Cook of AZGFD’s outreach efforts.

AZGFD has plans to approach the Town of Payson and Gila County to cross promote the AZGF website with the Discover Gila County website and the town’s, because people who come to town to hunt or fish are also “spending money, staying in town eating in restaurants providing a good economy to the town.”

The AZGFD website not only helps people sign up for education classes, but it also provides a portal to online licenses.

“We have a robust website with lots of information,” said Cook.

Ultimately, Cook and Laven hope to have the AZGFD website tell people “where you can stay and where you can buy licenses and equipment” in the area they promote.

For more information, call 602-942-3000 or visit the AZGFD website at azgfd.com.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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