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I have been VERY interested in AZSFW, but like many, have been nervous regarding the experience of Utah hunters and SFW, particularly when it comes to landowner tags. My good friend Terry Herndon sent this letter from Pete Cimerillo along to me:

Who says AZSFW is for Landowner Tags?

By Pete Cimellaro and Ron Eichelberger

At no time have Ron Eichelberger or myself been an advocate for landowner tags. We have never seen a landowner tag system that could work here in Arizona.

To begin this story you have to go back to the 1980's when elk numbers were high and conflict was raging between the Cattlemen, US Forest Service, AZ Game & Fish Department, and Sportsmen. The politics were just plain nasty, with everyone distrusting one another and working against any meaningful resolution of the problem.

During this time we regularly faced legislation to establish some kind of landowner tag program. Sportsmen and the department would beat it down in the legislature and the very next year we would be back doing the same thing, with nothing resolved.

In the early 1990's, then, Speaker of the House Mark Kilian, established the Natural Resource Discussion Group at the Legislature. This group, made up of cattlemen, legislators, environmentalists, game & fish, sportsmen, etc., discussed many issues of conflict in an effort to find workable solutions. While no monumental solutions were found, better dialogue did take place and some trust was built between the stakeholders. This process lasted through several House Speakers, but eventually stopped.

After the Natural Resource Discussion Group ended, the conversations and discussion among former members continued. Most notably, discussions continued between the Cattleman and Sportsmen. Most of the talk was about resolving the cattle vs. elk issue, access issues and about our mutual enemies.

The most notable players were: Doc Lane, Bass Aja, Chas Erickson, Steve Smith, Benny Aja and others representing the cowboys, while Floyd Green, Hays Gilstrap, Chris Denham, Nancy Lewis, Ron Eichelberger, Suzanne Gilstrap and Pete Cimellaro represented the hunters. I have left out plenty of folks on both sides of this issue; some because they attended only a few meetings and many because I have simply forgot all of the names. This is a symptom of my advanced age and is only going to get worse.

One positive event that did take place was the Governors Elk Symposium in 2001. We brought together a lot of interested parties, met with the experts, and had some good discussion of the conflicts between elk, cattle and the people that support each of them. The negative crowd was there too, saying the symposium was only a platform for landowner tags. But, once again, there were no monumental revelations or life changing solutions offered up, and no landowner tags either, just good dialogue and a willingness to continue talking.

Some of us have continued to attend each others meetings and argue the issues, never coming to any consensus or finding a solution. We have agreed to continue dialogue on these issues and will continue to do so because it is the responsible thing to do. None of us have a lock on the use of our public lands and whenever possible multiple users must respect the needs of all stakeholders. More importantly we must continue to have open dialogue on these important issues.

During 2005 the next chapter in this ongoing saga unfolded and you might have already guessed that Ron and I are right in the middle of it. Because of our involvement with Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife (AZSFW) we have been tabbed by an unknowing, or worse yet, malicious few, as wanting to bring landowner tags to Arizona. I assume this is because in some states Sportsmen for Wildlife (SFW) has been behind landowner tags and much of their influence hinges on the money raised by these tags.

The difference here is that we have started AZSFW, not SFW. We have our own separate corporation and organization. We did this because we wanted to be autonomous to a great degree while still working with SFW chapters on national issues. Up front, we told SFW that landowner tags in Arizona wouldn't fly and that we would continue to help lead the opposition of any landowner tag program. They are and we are fine with this arrangement! Below is an excerpt from the AZSFW policy and issues statement.

"Oppose any legislation or rule that allows for the creation of landowner tags for big game, while endeavoring to identify ways to address legitimate landowner depredation issues."

This statement goes right to the heart of the issue. No, on landowner tags but let's keep talking about our issues. This is where Ron and I have been from the start and where AZSFW is now. We challenge anyone to provide any evidence to the contrary!

One other perceived conflict we would like to address is the laughable charge that Ron and I, because we are outfitters, want landowner tags.

No one has been more vocal in their opposition to USO (George Taulman) than Ron and me. We have been vocal to the point we have alienated some Arizona outfitters. Tough! What is most important is that wildlife thrives here in Arizona. In order for that to happen we need a solid hunting base. This base must be built upon resident hunters (you and your kids), not nonresidents who come and go. While I appreciate nonresident contributions, they alone cannot sustain our wildlife programs; that burden lies squarely on the residents. If we have a solid resident hunter pool, volunteer interest, additional fundraising and political involvement, then maybe wildlife has a chance. Without these elements, we all know the future for wildlife is bleak.

To put an exclamation point on this issue: Who was the lead in this year's passage of HB 2127 (the legislation that insures at least 90% of Arizona's big game tags will go to its residents)? You guessed it, AZSFW. It makes absolutely no sense for Ron and I, or AZSFW, to support HB 2127, if what we really wanted was landowner tags or unlimited nonresident hunting opportunities.

In closing, please judge us on our fifty years of sportsmen conservation work. Do not listen to the voices of a questionable few, with unknown motives, to make your judgment. Judge AZSFW by the people who stand before you to promote it, and by what it does, not by what a few say it will do!
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