Tomorrow will mark the close of dove season in the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. The past two weeks have been a trial run for a new state law that has opened over one million acres of city-owned land to small game hunters. The relaxed regulations have allowed hunters to avoid congestion and potential accidents by spreading out, wildlife professionals say.
With the passage of Senate Bill 1334 in July, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission was granted the authority to regulate hunting within municipal areas – mostly undeveloped open-spaces that have been annexed by cities. The measure prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances or rules that would limit hunting during Commission-established open seasons.
“Basically, because of these law changes, Arizona hunters now have access to the undeveloped lands on the fringes of municipal boundaries that were once off limits. Much of it is perfect for safe recreational small game hunting using shotguns, which have a short effective range,” said Chief of Wildlife Recreation Craig McMullen.
McMullen, quick to allay concerns over public safety, points out that the use of long-range rifles and pistols is still prohibited on private property within city limits and in metropolitan hunt units. Naturally, the Commission had to close seasons on general hunts for animals such as elk and deer in municipal areas. In addition, hunting will remain prohibited in densely populated “metro zones” throughout the state, including areas within Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson.
In preparation for the September 1 opening of dove-hunting season, wildlife officials conducted sessions with municipal law enforcement agencies to ready them for potential challenges.
“Our department’s taken a really thoughtful approach in trying to develop this in a safe way, where it will still allow people to connect with nature and hunting close to home,” said McMullen.
It seems the law isn't a threat to public safety like some had feared. Assistant Director of Field Operations Leonard Ordway testified to a:
“quiet dove opening weekend across the state, with about the normal amount of calls into the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s radio room.”
State Senator Frank Antenori (R-Tucson), author of SB 1334, said of his bill:
“it's good for hunters and it’s good for kids that aren’t able to travel long distances.”
Antenori is referring to what has been called a growing “nature deficit” among youth in the state. Proponents of the measure hope that the new law will give more kids a chance to forge bonds with, and develop a healthy respect for the wilderness that surrounds them. Ordway says that the potential positive impact that regular outdoor activities, such as hunting, have on the developmental health of youth is well-studied and documented.