U.S. Rep. Gosar leads U.S. House Committee passage of bi-partisan Grand Canyon Bison Management Act

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department applauds the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee for approving a bi-partisan bill that will allow the Department to better manage and conserve the bison population within Grand Canyon National Park.

Today the Committee passed the Grand Canyon Bison Management Act, attaching it as an amendment to the larger Sportsman’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. The Bison Management Act, introduced in June by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, requires the U.S. Department of Interior and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to coordinate on a plan that would allow sportsmen holding a valid state-issued hunting license to assist in management of the bison population within the park.

The amendment follows the release of a National Park Service plan that allows public volunteers to assist in culling an overpopulation of bison on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Wildlife surveys estimate that about 600 bison have migrated into the park, where hunting is prohibited and bison are impacting both natural and cultural resources.

Left unclear with the current National Park Service plan is whether a licensed, skilled volunteer would be allowed to harvest and keep the entire animal. The Service stated previously that it was legally prohibited from conveying the harvested animal to a private hunter. Approval of the Bison Management Act will provide clear legal direction that allows skilled volunteers to keep the entire animal when leaving the park.

“While the National Park Service plan has some components that move in the right direction, it will surely face endless litigation while a bison herd continues growing unabated on the Grand Canyon National Park,” Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman Jim Ammons said. “This federal legislation will allow Arizona Game and Fish Department and Park Service to apply the best wildlife management practices to manage the bison herd effectively and immediately. Right now, Grand Canyon National Park simply cannot properly manage the unhealthy growth of the herd without this legislative fix.”

Rep. Gosar stated that the Bison Management Act provides a direct, cost-effective solution that strives to protect Grand Canyon resources.

“This is another important step in the legislative process to provide local wildlife managers the authority to utilize state licensed skilled volunteers to provide a timely solution, with no cost to taxpayers, to address the exploding bison population problem in Grand Canyon National Park,” Rep. Gosar said.

Biologists predict that the herd could grow to nearly 800 in the next three years and be as large as 1,200 to 1,500 animals within 10 years without further management actions to control the size of the herd. AZGFD continues to collaborate with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the InterTribal Buffalo Council on bison management guidelines for herd reduction.

“The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department thank Dr. Gosar for continuing to pursue this issue for the conservationists who appreciate the Park’s historic landmarks and want to protect them and prevent undue degradation to habitat and native species by managing the bison herd at sustainable levels,” Ammons said.

The bipartisan House bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Tom O’Halleran, David Schweikert and Trent Franks.

Operational details of herd reduction under the National Park Service plan are still being worked out and more information, including potential volunteer opportunities, will be announced at a later date by the National Park Service.

Crews make significant progress in suppressing wildfire near Tusayan

Crews made significant progress last night in suppressing the 151-acre Rain Fire located about 5 miles southwest of the Town of Tusayan on the Kaibab National Forest.

Incident commander Quentin Johnson said the wildfire, which is burning in pinyon-juniper woodlands, is now 40 percent contained after retardant drops yesterday and the construction of hand and dozer line late into last night.

Resources assigned today include three 20-person hand crews, three engines, a dozer, a water tender and several individual fire personnel for a total of about 80 people. With winds predicted to be out of the west and gusts up to 30 mph in the forecast today, fire personnel will focus on enhancing established containment lines especially on the east flank to try to prevent the wildfire from spreading.

Smoke from the Rain Fire has diminished significantly since yesterday, but it may still be visible from Grand Canyon Airport, Grand Canyon National Park, Highway 64, and the Town of Tusayan. Grand Canyon National Park remains open.

No structures are threatened. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

National Park Service seeks public comment on initial environmental assessment for bison herd reduction at Grand Canyon

PHOENIX – The National Park Service (NPS) has made available for public review its Initial Bison Herd Reduction Environmental Assessment (EA), which evaluates management actions related to bison on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The public can view the EA on the NPS website and submit any comments through June 7.

Since the 1990s, the bison population on the Kaibab Plateau herd has grown significantly, impacting Grand Canyon National Park resources such as water, vegetation, soils and archaeological sites. While they are negatively affecting habitat at their current numbers, bison can provide exceptional value to the visitor experience, when managed at appropriate numbers and distribution.

The purpose of the actions evaluated in the EA are to (1) quickly reduce bison population density on the Kaibab Plateau through collaborative efforts and (2) protect Grand Canyon National Park resources and values from the impacts of a steadily growing bison population.

According to a NPS news release, the NPS would work together with cooperating agencies and partners through the preferred alternative to reduce the bison herd to fewer than 200 animals using lethal culling with skilled volunteers and non-lethal capture and removal.

A management action that is not included in the Park Service’s preferred alternative is reducing the bison herd through public hunting. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department have consistently advocated for a model that uses properly licensed hunters as a management tool and allows the hunter to keep the animal.

“Several of the proposed actions in the Park Service EA will cost taxpayers far more than lethal removal by citizen hunters who would pay for the opportunity to assist the NPS,” said Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner Kurt Davis. “This will provide additional hunting opportunities consistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and help to properly manage the bison population. This approach just makes sense and supports efforts to alleviate park damage caused by bison, saves tax dollars, funds wildlife conservation and helps protect habitat for other wildlife.”

The NPS will host three in-person open house meetings and one web-based meeting during the comment period. All times are Arizona time (Mountain Standard Time – MST) unless otherwise indicated:

  • 6 p.m. – 8 pm. Tuesday, May 16 at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1175 W. Route 66 in Flagstaff.
  • 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18 at the Ben Avery Activity Center, 4044 W. Black Canyon Blvd in Phoenix.
  • 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. (Mountain Time) (5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Arizona time) Tuesday, May 23 at the Holiday Inn Express and Hotel, 217 S. 100 East in Kanab, Utah.
  • 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 30 online. Registration for the web-based meeting and more information about the open houses can be found here.

Comments can be submitted either electronically or via U.S. Postal Service at Grand Canyon National Park, P.O. Box 129, Attn: Bison Management Plan EA, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 or at one of the in-person public meetings listed above.

Comments must be received by June 7. Comments will not be accepted by fax, email or by any method other than those specified above. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.

Board of Supervisors adopt National Park Improvement Resolution

FLAGSTAFF – The Coconino County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution this week supporting the use of county resources for infrastructure improvements in the United States’ National Parks.

In 2016, the National Park Service estimated a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $460 million in Coconino County, including necessary repairs to the visitor centers, aging historical structures, trails, sewers, drainage, roads, bridges, tunnels and other vital infrastructure of the county’s six National Parks, Monuments and Recreation Areas.

“The Board of Supervisors recognizes the importance and value of National Parks to both the county and our many visitors,” said Chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors Liz Archuleta. “Our goal with approving this resolution is that we can help support the necessary maintenance and improvements of these areas.”

Coconino County hosted more than seven million visitors to its National Parks in 2015. These visits brought an estimated $932 million in revenue to local communities adjacent to national parks in the State of Arizona.

“Coconino County’s economic foundation is built on visitation to National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas and public lands,” said Supervisor Art Babbott. “By adequately funding critical infrastructure- water lines, roads wastewater- we can strengthen our economies, improve visitor experience to these wondrous places and protect these landscapes for future generations.”

The County will forward on the resolution to Congressional representatives and the National Association of Counties to do further advocacy during federal budget negotiations.

CAVIAT Board Vacancy at Grand Canyon Unified School District

FLAGSTAFF – Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Risha VanderWey is seeking applicants for appointment to the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology (CAVIAT) Governing Board. One vacant seat is eligible to residents of the Grand Canyon Unified School District.

Per CAVIAT Bylaws, the appointment will be a four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2020.

Applicants must be Arizona registered voters and residents of the school district for at least one year prior to the date of appointment. Applicants or their spouses can’t be an employee of the district.

Application information:
· Download the application here http://www.coconino.az.gov/schoolboardapplication
· Deadline to submit is Monday, March 13 by 5 p.m.
· Submit by email kgraves@coconino.az.gov (Live signature original required)
· Submit by fax 928-526-1469 (Live signature original required)
· Mail/drop off Coconino County School Superintendent, 2384 N Steves Blvd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004

An advisory committee, consisting of district residents and a current board member will be assembled to conduct interviews and advise Superintendent VanderWey on the appointment.

For more information, please call Kim Graves at the Office of the Coconino County School Superintendent at 928-679-8070 or e-mail: kgraves@coconino.az.gov.

Coconino Sheriff’s Office Coordinates Rescue of Sky Divers at Grand Canyon

GRAND CANYON – At 1:20 pm Friday January 27, 2017, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office received a call from the Grand Canyon National Park Airport tower to report that two parachutists became stranded in deep snow in the forest.

The two individuals, a student and a sky dive instructor from Paragon Sky Dive, made a jump from 15,000 feet. They were approximately 2 miles off their intended landing zone but were able to land in the forest south of the airport where they encountered deep snow. The ground speed wind at the time was reported at 11.25 mph and the wind chill was 18 degrees.

Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, National Park Service Rangers, and a backhoe requested by airport staff responded to the area. The backhoe became stuck in the snow and was unable to access the subjects. The Park Service launched their helicopter and located the subjects. The Park Service air crew determined they did not need any medical assistance and flew them back to the South Rim.

Sheriff’s Deputies interviewed the instructor and student. The instructor reported the two had jumped in tandem. The instructor said he had mistakenly jumped too early causing them to miss their landing zone. They walked in the snow approximately ¾ of mile before the helicopter located them. Both subjects reported they were wet and cold due to the type of clothing and footwear they had.

State Route 67 to Grand Canyon’s North Rim to close for winter

State Route 67 leading to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park will close for the winter on Thursday, Dec. 1.

The highway will be blocked to traffic about a half mile from its junction with US 89A at Jacob Lake. With park facilities closed for the winter, the Arizona Department of Transportation doesn’t clear snow from the highway, which leads 43 miles south from US 89A. SR 67 is scheduled to reopen in mid-May along with North Rim lodges, campgrounds and other amenities.

State Route 64 remains open all year to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

ADOT works to inform the public about planned highway restrictions and closures, but it’s possible that unscheduled impacts might occur because of weather or other factors. For the most current information about highway conditions statewide, visit ADOT’s Travel Information Site at www.az511.gov, follow ADOT on Twitter (@ArizonaDOT) or call 511, except while driving.

Grand Canyon hosts Native American celebration and waives fees on Veterans Day

640-grand-canyon-veterans-1GRAND CANYON — On Wednesday, November 9, Grand Canyon National Park will host a Native American Indian Heritage Celebration with special presentations and demonstrations. Grand Canyon visitors and residents are invited to participate in this special day to recognize and celebrate the many accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices made by First Americans.

From 10 am to 3 pm at Shrine of the Ages, visitors can see cultural demonstrations and buy direct from artists. The celebration continues at 7:30 pm at Shrine of the Ages with presentation of colors by the Cameron Veterans Color Guard, a traditional Hopi prayer, the Dupkia Hopi Dancers, the Dishchii’bikoh Apache Crown Dancers, and the Havasupai Guardians of the Grand Canyon Ram Dancers. To end the evening, enjoy Dine Nation’s Milton Tso playing traditional flute music. All Native American Indian Heritage celebration events are free and open to the public.

Later in the week, and in honor of those that serve and have served in the United States military, Grand Canyon National Park will offer everyone free entrance on Veterans Day Friday, November 11.

Fee-free designation applies to entrance fees only and does not affect fees for camping, reservations, tours, or use of concessions. Park entrance stations will have the Interagency Senior and Annual passes available for those who wish to purchase them. Visitors who plan to spend time in the park beyond November 11 will need to pay the regular entrance fee the remainder of their stay.

This is the last fee-free day of 2016. Fee-free days for 2017 have not been announced yet. Once those dates are announced, they will be posted here: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm.

Sen. McCain assures sportsmen, AZGFD he’ll fight proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument

GRAND CANYON — Overlooking the Grand Canyon on Wednesday, multiple sportsmen’s groups met with Sen. John McCain to discuss their opposition to designating the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which would greatly impact access to hunting and fishing, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s ability to properly manage wildlife.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is opposed to a proposal that would needlessly create a national monument north of the Grand Canyon. Such a designation would limit the public’s access to more than 1.7 million acres of the Kaibab Plateau and will greatly impact local residents, sportsmen and sportswomen, and AZGFD’s mission to properly manage the state’s wildlife.

“The land is here for the people,” Mule Deer Foundation Regional Director Terry Herndon told McCain during a meeting at Grand Canyon National Park with sportsmen’s groups, community leaders and business owners. “It is absolutely critical to maintain our access for hunting and fishing, and for the Arizona Game and Fish Department to be able to continue to do their job to manage our wildlife.”

Those gathered also expressed concern the designation could impact access to water resources and could block further access to public lands, which will lead to degradation of wildlife populations and habitat on one of the most important hunting areas in the U.S.

Sen. McCain pledged to fight any designation of a Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument and vowed to ask Congress to overturn any such action, if created by President Barack Obama.

“If the president issues this executive order, I promise to make it my highest priority to have it overturned in January,” McCain said. “We must weigh the full impact and what we’re losing with this designation. This will eliminate a way of life and that isn’t fair to our residents or visitors. This will also greatly affect the heritage of our state and those who depend on multi-use areas such as this.”

Creation of the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument could well transfer jurisdiction of the area watershed to the National Park Service, which already has an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog, and will hamper forest thinning projects designed to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Public workshop to be held in Flagstaff for Grand Canyon National Park Airport Master Plan

FLAGSTAFF — The master plan study process for the Grand Canyon National Park Airport, owned and operated by the Arizona Department of Transportation, continues with a public information workshop July 20 in Flagstaff.

The public will be able to review data collected by the study team regarding aviation forecasts and how it relates to current airport facility capabilities. Members of the community will also be able to provide comments and input on the study.

The open house forum will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. at Flagstaff City Hall, 211 W. Aspen Ave.

Airport master plans are required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The update for Grand Canyon National Park Airport will evaluate the facility’s capabilities and role, forecast future aviation demand and plan facility improvements to meet that demand over the next 20 years.

In addition to public meetings, comments and questions can be provided to the study team online at azdot.gov/gcnairportmasterplan, by phone at 800.574.6334 or by mail to Grand Canyon Airport Master Plan Study, c/o Coffman Associates, 4835 E. Cactus Road, Ste. 235, Scottsdale, AZ 85254.

For more information on the Grand Canyon Airport and the master plan study, please visit azdot.gov/gcnairportmasterplan.