Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill Wednesday establishing a committee that will help recommend candidates for the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, a change that opponents say will give groups representing hunters and anglers control over issues affecting wildlife and the outdoors.
Supporters of SB 1200, sponsored by Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park, say it’s important that members understand what the commission oversees.
“These activities are kind of what distinguishes our state, so I think this will give more people in Arizona an option and it will make a better, stronger, more reliable commission system,” said Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, who introduced a similar bill in the House.
But Sandy Bahr, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said the commission shouldn’t be restricted to just a few organizations.
“There are many groups and organizations that work on wildlife issues from a variety of perspectives, and they are in no way represented in these groups,” she said.
Nelson didn’t return a telephone message Wednesday afternoon.
The Arizona Game and Fish commission consists of five members, all appointed by the governor.
The law will create a five-member Arizona Game and Fish Commission Appointment Recommendation Board to help review and recommend those the governor appoints. One of the members must be from the general public or a representative of a “nonprofit, non-game” organization, while the others must be from:
• an organization representing “a significant cross-section of wildlife conservation and sportsmen organizations”;
• an organization “that has a documented mission to increase, sustain and conserve” game species and fish;
• a sportsman’s organization with membership primarily confined to a specific region of Arizona, an affiliate of a national sportsman’s group or a group that preserves wildlife;
• and a group representing ranchers.
Peter Cimellaro, president of Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, a group that works to promote wildlife and the continuation of hunting and fishing, said the advisory panel will help create a more diverse pool of applicants.
“This certainly points to an opportunity for the most qualified group of people to choose from,” he said.
A news release attributed to two members of the Game and Fish Commission last month urged the public to oppose the bill.
“This legislation would lead to, and is intended to lead to, a commission made up entirely of people with similar views, similar backgrounds and similar intentions,” Jennifer Martin, the commission’s chair, said in the release that also included comments from Norman W. Freeman of Chino Valley.
Ryna Rock, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the well-being of Arizona’s wildlife, wildlife habitat and natural systems, said she fears the commission will become slanted in its decision-making, with hunters occupying a majority of the seats.
“This legislation doesn’t honor public trust,” she said. “It endangers it and cuts the voice of a lot of different outdoor enthusiasts.”