The Coconino National Forest has apparently backed away from a threat to ticket and tow hunters’ trailers left in the forest for more than 72 hours.
The suggestion came in a press release issued back in August that said: “The Coconino National Forest is asking all northern Arizona-bound hunters to refrain from leaving their trailers unattended in the forest during the upcoming hunting season. In previous seasons, law enforcement officers have found numerous trailers parked in the forests for the purpose of reserving a location for the entire hunting season and also because the individuals did not want to haul their trailers back and forth. Parking a trailer in the forest for this purpose violates Forest Service regulations. If trailers are left unattended for more than 72 hours, the Forest Service considers them abandoned property and may remove them from the forest. Violators can also be cited for this action. Enforcing these regulations protects the property and allows recreational users equal access to national forests. This regulation applies to all national forests in northern Arizona, including the Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott forests.”
However, hunters have long set up base camps and left behind their locked trailers so they could hunt in certain areas on successive weekends.
The Coconino County Sheriff protested the proposed new regulations and sheriff’s offices throughout Northern Arizona indicated they wouldn’t enforce the regulation, despite a mutual aid agreement with the Forest Service.
Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin said she’d heard that several hunters had trailers towed to Phoenix, where they had to pay steep fees to reclaim them.
However, Forest Service officials recently put out a release saying it was all a big misunderstanding.
Kaibab Forest Supervisor Mike Williams and Coconino Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart issued a joint statement saying “We are concerned that hunters may have recently been given the impression that they are at risk of having their trailers or other vehicles towed while visiting the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests in northern Arizona. This is simply not true, and we want to set the record straight in the hopes of reducing any residual anxieties that our forest visitors might have.”
They said they regretted that the August press release had caused “confusion and concern, particularly among the hunting community in Arizona.”
Instead, they insisted, “Forest visitors camping and actively engaging in hunting or other recreational activities are not at risk of being cited or having their property considered abandoned after 72 hours. Hunters and other campers have never been required to move camp every 72 hours and will not be required to do so in the future. The Kaibab and Coconino National Forests are not implementing any new regulations or policies. Both forests have orders in place for a 14-day stay limit for camping occupancy. Forest users may camp and occupy a site for up to 14 days in a 30-day period. Most of our hunters and campers have long been familiar with this 14-day stay limit, and it has not changed.”
However, they also expressed concern with the growing number of “recreational trailers, vehicles and other personal property being abandoned on the Kaibab and Coconino forests in recent years. The Forest Service has the authority and the obligation to remove abandoned property in order to protect the public from potential hazards and to keep the forests from becoming a dumping ground for unwanted items.”
State Representative Brenda Barton (R-Payson) welcomed the shift. She said she was, “greatly pleased” at the sudden change of heart by the United States Forest Service (USFS). “This is a wonderful example of how federal agencies can work with local communities to resolve issues like these. It’s the holiday season and the Forest Service has finally gotten into the spirit. ”
Many local economies in Barton’s sprawling rural district rely on the revenues brought to their communities by sportsmen and hunters. Barton concluded that “... this could have had negative economic impacts on several of the local communities in my district and I truly applaud the Forest Service decision to reverse their previous action.”
An Arizona State University study estimated that the state’s 135,000 hunters account for about $127 million in local retail sales and anglers about $831 million. The combined impact of $1.34 billion generates 17,000 in jobs and $314 million in salaries and wages for local residents — not to mention $58 million in state tax revenue.
Supervisor Martin also welcomed the clarification. “I’m still running down hunters who had their trailers towed,” she said. “The USFS got caught in their own trap, me thinks ... and they generally don’t get that kind of pushback. But they’re dealing with many hunters and not just a few ranchers and or hikers and now are trying to pretend sheriffs just misunderstood. Sheriffs generally don’t ‘go off half cocked.’”