Helicopter Harassed Antelopes in Arizona, Feds Say

Three men are accused of harassing and herding antelopes with a helicopter near Prescott last August, possibly to help a guided hunting outfit.

A group of hunters in the area reported seeing a black-and-red helicopter buzz herds and solitary antelopes repeatedly on August 22 and 23, according to a federal complaint filed this week. The animals were "freaked out" by the chopper's aggressive maneuvers, which in part seemed designed to drive the antelopes toward a ranch, witnesses said.

Named in the complaint are Chris Atkinson, owner of Sendero Helicopters in Texas, and his firm; Chad Smith, a manager at O RO Ranch and the owner of Vaquero Outfitters; and another man allegedly in the chopper at the time, Andrew King. Atkinson's firm is also a named defendant.

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New Tactic Emerges in Occupy Oak Flat Movement

Miriam Wasser
In the latest effort to foil the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, activists are asking President Obama to designate Oak Flat a national monument. The area, which is part of Tonto National Forest, is a historically significant and sacred spot for many Native American tribes, as well as a well-known rock-climbing and recreation destination.

Wendsler Nosie, San Carlos Apache district councilman and leader of the Occupy Oak Flat protest, started the online petition earlier this week. And with over 600 backers already, the number of signatures is rising quickly. This new strategy comes three weeks after protesters took over a section of the popular campground, vowing not to leave until the Federal Government protects the land.

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Occupy Oak Flat Refuses to Back Down in Protest Against Resolution Copper

Miriam Wasser
Wendsler Nosie, leader of the Oak Flat Occupation, says he's "not scared."

Leaders of Occupy Oak Flat say they won't give up until the U.S. government repeals the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, leading a three-week protest at the Oak Flat Campground, vows to remain there until the federal government bends.

The controversial exchange gave Australian-British mining company Resolution Copper (a subsidiary of the largest mining company in the world, Rio Tinto) access to a vast underground copper reserve under Oak Flat. The deal trades 2,400 acres of previously federally protected land for 5,300 acres of company property. The land exchange was attached to the 2015 United States National Defense Authorization Act as a midnight rider after it failed to pass as a stand-alone bill multiple times during the last decade.

"There was never any transparency in how the bill passed, and now people are outraged," says Wendsler Nosie, San Carlos Apache district councilman and leader of the protest. He calls the land exchange a violation of human rights and religious freedom.

"People don't seem to realize how this will affect Indians all across the United States," he says. If the government can give away this land, what's to stop them from doing it again in the future? "It sets precedence."

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The NPS Says It's Promoting Competition, but a Grand Canyon Concessionaire Claims Otherwise


There's a complicated legal situation at the Grand Canyon these days because a private concessionaire, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, has accused the National Park Service of mismanagement.

Trying to follow the situation without an economics degree or a legal dictionary is tough so we're going to break it down for you:

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Boy Scouts Worried About New Day-Hiking Rules at Grand Canyon

Image: Ray Stern
A new permit fee and restrictions for day hikers below the rim of Grand Canyon could "crush" travel plans for some Boy Scouts, a leader for the organization warned.

On Thursday, the National Park Service published new rules for what it calls "extended day hiking" and rim-to-rim trips by non-commercial groups, stating the changes were necessary because of the impact of the increasingly popular activity. The rules include obtaining a $175 permit -- a large increase from the previous price of "free" -- and limits on the number of hikers from each group.

Schools, church groups and hiking clubs are the most likely to be affected.

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Parking Meters Possibly Coming to Echo Canyon and Other Lots in Phoenix Preserves

Image: Ray Stern
Phoenix officials are considering a new plan that would make hikers move faster up and down the trails: Parking meters.

Paid parking for mountain preserves and parks was authorized by the city's Parks and Recreation Department in 2010, but so far the city has never charged users. That could be changing.

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Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon Trail to Re-Open on January 15

City of Phoenix
Echo Canyon Trail at Camelback Mountain is scheduled to re-open to the public on January 15 with a new trailhead, restroom facilities, and expanded parking lot.

This looks like a firm date (following an "oops" moment in September). Expected temperatures in the low 70s should help make it a great day for a hike.

But leave the pooch at home, at least for the next six months.

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Phoenix Feels About 110 Degrees Warmer Than Minneapolis Today

Smabs Sputzer via Flickr

Just to illustrate how miserable other parts of the country are right now, it feels about 110 degrees warmer in Phoenix than it does in Minneapolis, at the time of this post.

It's around -12 degrees in Minneapolis, according to AccuWeather, but it feels like it's about -40 degrees. In Phoenix, it's about 64 degrees, and it feels about 70 degrees.

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Deaths Near "The Wave" Formation in Arizona Prompts New Sign, More Warnings by BLM

The Wave
A new sign and more safety warnings are coming from the Bureau of Land Management following the deaths of three hikers this summer near "The Wave" formation near the Arizona-Utah border.

Following an analysis of the tragedies, the BLM says today in a news release that several steps will be taken immediately. They include:

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Grand Canyon Guides Duane Hager and Michael Stephens Charged for Unauthorized, 90-Client Rim-to-Rim Day Hike

Image: Ray Stern
View from North Kaibab trail.
Federal authorities have charged two would-be Grand Canyon guides for taking 90 clients from the Valley on an unauthorized, rim-to-rim day hike.

Duane Hager, a Litchfield Park real estate agent, and his business partner Michael Stephens, the principals of Rim to Rim Adventures, face four counts related to defrauding the government, failing to obtain a commercial-use permit and lying to forest rangers.

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