Arizona Battles Feds, Again, Over D.C.'s Restrictive Forest-Use Rules

Not Abandoned propertyState and federal officials in
Arizona are fighting just the latest skirmish in a long-running war
over just how restrictive rules should be over human use of forest
and desert areas. The locals want fewer and uniform restrictions,
while their D.C. counterparts like to play “What will we cite
people for this week?” with campers, hunters, and pretty much
anybody who likes the outdoors. The most recent battle is over a
federal rule-switch, requiring hunters to move their camps every 72
hours. Decades-long practice, as the Arizona Game and Fish
Department points out, is to allow campers to stay in place for 14

The terse U.S. Forest Service
press release
(PDF) that set off the latest kerfuffle reads as

Flagstaff, Ariz. – 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

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 Ar
izona, including the Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott forests.

Unmentioned in the press release is that this is a change in
long-standing policy. Everybody in Arizona knows that you’re
supposed to shift your camp every two weeks. This is to deter
people from simply moving into the forest permanently.

It doesn’t really work. Plenty of drifters, modern mountain
(wo)men, and adventurous types live scattered through the desert
and forest in tents, campers, trucks. and caves. Most stick it out
during the pleasant weather before moving on, but a few set up

fairly elaborate habitations
and stay for years. One of my
friends (who I’ll write about in detail another time) used to work
for a year or two, and then take to the wilderness. He lived in one
of my tents for a few months after a wildfire cut him off from his
main camp.

But you’re not supposed to do that. So the two-week rule has a
rationale behind it. You can camp, so long as you stop short of
digging a root cellar or building a chimney. Parking in the forest
during the hunting season and “reserving a location” isn’t really
an issue because, you know, the forest is big enough for frigging
mountain men to hide out in on illegal homesteads.

In a
very nice letter
(PDF) to the Forest Service, Larry D. Voyles,
Director of Arizona Game and Fish, points out that hunting and
fishing is actually on the decline across the country, and his
department is actually trying to get more people to go out
in the forest by reducing and simplifying rules and

Having worked as a game warden for more than 30 years, I am
aware that many hunters are forced to hunt in chunks of days. Keep
in mind that some hunters wait for years, if not decades to be
drawn for a particular big game tag. There are many times when a
hunter may be in camp for a few days, have to leave for work, and
then return a few days later to finish his or her hunt.

So running the risk of a citation or even having expensive gear
lifted by the feds is a bit of a downer, however unlikely it is
that one or another green-uniformed dickhead will stumble across
the camp. He pleasantly requested that the feds return to a uniform
14-day rule across all of Arizona’s forests.

No dice. The Game and Fish folks
sent out a warning
last month that “the Department has met
repeatedly with staff from the affected national forests to repeal
this enforcement approach, with no success.” With the sheriffs
departments from Yavapai and Coconino counties, the state developed
for people to put on their vehicles, explicitly telling
rangers that trucks and trailers have not been abandoned,
although Game and Fish warns that the feds may well ignore

As I mentioned, this is not the first confrontation between
Arizona and federal officials over land-use rules. During the
government not-so-shutdown, Coconino County deputies
cut the chains on the gate
of a facility closed by the Forest
Service because the closure was causing traffic jams. Sheriffs

went head-to-head with the Forest Service over road closures
And now the whole Arizona Sheriffs Association adopted a formal
resolution saying its members oppose and
won’t help the feds enforce their restrictions, including the new
72-hour rule

The way things are going, I’m waiting for the first ranger with
an attitude to get trussed and thrown over somebody’s hood. You
don’t even need a tag for them.

Have I mentioned that I’ve
written a novel about wilderness-living hermits, crazed rangers and
general shenanigans

from Hit & Run

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