An overflow crowd of Rim Country residents each took their two minutes at the microphone during the Arizona Game and Fish Department Commission meeting in Payson on June 11.
Most of them were hunters who wanted the five commissioners to hear why they opposed a ban on trail cameras for the purpose of taking or aiding in the take of wildlife statewide.
Applause broke out as most finished their remarks defending the use of trail cameras during the public comment session that also featured others calling on the phone and lasted about 2½ hours during the commission meeting at Quality Inn.
Of the 49 people who called in or voiced their opinion in person, 31 urged the commission not to ban trail cameras and only 18 supported the move.
Despite the strong support expressed for the use of trail cameras throughout the morning, the commissioners voted 5-0 to ban the use of the trail cameras to help in the taking of animals.
The ban begins on January 1, 2022.
It’s the end of a process the commission began months ago and received thousands of public comments about via letters, texts and emails.
In response to the public comments, AZGFD added the option of prohibiting the use of trail cameras from July 1 through January 31 for the purpose of taking or aiding the take of wildlife and prohibit the use of trail cameras for the use of take within ¼ mile of a developed water source.
They went with the total ban.
The concerns are that the cameras don’t give animals a “fair chance.”
“Fair chance” is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of free ranging wildlife in a manner that does not give a hunter or angler improper or unfair advantage over such wildlife.
The AZGFD contends the use of trail cameras has become an increasing source of conflict between and amongst hunters, including increased traffic by hunters checking cameras for a current hunt and/or for their future hunts, but during an ongoing hunt for others.
AZGFD further contends that frequent visits to set and/or check trail camera cause disturbances to wildlife and habitat, which may be exacerbated during extended dry periods of the year and drought conditions. They say livestock operators are concerned that frequent visits to set and/or check trail cameras are negatively affecting livestock operations.
Other concerns include: trail cams are an invasion of privacy when they photograph other people in the field without permission, as well as the potential monetization of game cameras to include services to place, monitor, check and sell camera images, and if those services increase, the numbers of cameras and their use for take could dramatically increase.
Many hunters who spoke in Payson contend that the commission’s arguments are “ridiculous.”
Larry Martinez of Prescott, who was at the meeting, said he wants science-based actions and that’s not where the ban comes from.
“Everything I’ve heard today is people’s emotions, no science,” said Martinez, who wants evidence that trail camera use has led to a reduction in wildlife numbers, which is another argument against the cameras.
As for cameras leading to violence as AZGFD argues, Brian Fisher refuted that.
“I’ve been using trail cameras for 16 years with no altercations, it’s just not an issue,” he said.
Trail camera use has been raised with the state legislature and legislation has previously been introduced that has so far not advanced because the commission maintains the authority to examine this issue through rulemaking.
Also, as the state population continues to grow and the cost of trail cameras continues to decrease, the number of cameras is expected to continue to steadily increase.
Commissioner Jim Goughnour, of Payson, summed up his vote to ban the cameras in a letter released after the meeting.
“In Arizona, the commission is a unique charter,” Goughnour wrote. “There aren’t many states in which the commission is independent of the governor, legislative branch and chartered to manage 823 species of wildlife in the state. The commission has to consider topics from many perspectives including statutes, regulations, fair chase, ethics and public perception. I have stated several times in the past, that when I’m faced with challenging decisions I look to the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation, mission statements and history for guidance. There is no doubt that fair chase is a cornerstone of the North American Model which is the ethics upon which hunting and angling is based.
“For me, the use of any trail camera does not meet the criteria currently in place for fair chase.”
Many hunters who spoke during the meeting said they had never harvested an animal they got a picture of on camera, contending they use cameras as a scouting tool. Several said trail cameras are no different than fish finders.
Payson hunting guide Waylon Pettet spoke in favor of the ban. He owns AZ Ground Pounders Outfitters, a local guide service, with his cousins Steel, Cash and Levi Armstrong.
“We think that the woods right now are just over saturated with cameras,” Pettet said privately after speaking to the commissioners.
“There’s not a water source that certain animals can go to that doesn’t have cameras on it. There’ll be times when we go out to a certain waterhole and we’ll have 10-12 cameras on the same hole and the people are checking the cameras all the time.
“Right now, to be competitive in the field, we use trail cameras, but we’re willing to give up the trail cameras completely in order for it to be a fair playing field for people that don’t have cameras, as well.”
The ban goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.