Willow Fire Could Pose Problems For Area Hunters

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Just a month after the Willow Fire area was re-opened to the public, new restrictions have been placed on motorized vehicles.

Hunters will be most inconvenienced by the latest measures, according to Vincent Picard, public information officer for the Tonto National Forest.

"It's kind of a pain for hunters, because if they bag some game in those areas they're going to have to quarter their kills and hump it," Picard said. "We feel bad about that, but it's something we have to do."

The closure limits motorized use in burned areas to forest roads.

There are two exceptions: Forest Road 414 is closed from its junction with Forest Road 451 (just southeast of Mineral Creek Trailhead) to the junction with Forest Road 442 (north of Fisher Mesa), and Forest Road 201 is closed from its junction with Forest Road 25 (near Slate Creek Divide) to its terminus at the Mount Peeley Trailhead.

"The portion of the 414 road that's closed is mainly because the road is getting washed out," District Ranger Ed Armenta said. "We need to get that road rehabilitated and stabilized, plus it's a safety concern to the public because there's a lot of washouts."

Armenta said the cross country restrictions are necessary to allow vegetation to grow in the burned areas.

Tonto National Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits emphasized that the restrictions are only temporary.

"Following the Willow Fire, this terrain needs time to re-establish root systems and begin regeneration," Siderits said.

Armenta said the fire area is already beginning to show signs of recovery.

"It's starting to sprout," he said. "Primarily, the oak brush has taken off and some of the grasses that were planted."

Armenta said the district has applied for long-term rehabilitation money to cover replacement of range fences and other items not covered under emergency rehabilitation funds.

The Willow Fire, which started June 24, consumed 119,500 acres southwest of Payson and cost more than $10 million to fight.

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