Forest visitors camping and actively engaging in hunting or other recreational activities on the Coconino, Kaibab or Prescott National Forests are not at risk of being cited or having their property considered abandoned after 72 hours
The U.S. Forest Service has issued a clarification to address concerns that were raised in the months following an August news release. The release stated that trailers left unattended for more than 72 hours on the Coconino, Kaibab or Prescott National Forests could be considered abandoned property and subject to removal, with the owner subject to possible citation. The news release caused hunters, other outdoor recreationists, county sheriffs, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Commission, and elected officials to express concerns about what appeared to be an unprecedented change in the Forest Service’s 14-day stay limit for camping. The Forest Service’s clarification indicates this is not the case.
The full clarification notice, written by Mike Williams, Kaibab National Forest Supervisor, and Earl Stewart, Coconino National Forest Supervisor, was sent to media outlets around Arizona and is reprinted below. Also below are links to a clarification letter sent by U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to Senator John McCain, and a clarification letter sent by Regional Forester Calvin Joyner to Arizona Game and Fish Department Director Larry Voyles.
Northern Arizona forests welcome hunters
By Mike Williams, Kaibab National Forest Supervisor, and Earl Stewart, Coconino National Forest Supervisor
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. Back in August, the Forest Service distributed a news release that attempted to explain rules regarding abandoned property on the National Forests. The intent of the release was to provide information and clarification on a growing issue facing forest managers. We regret the confusion and concern, particularly among the hunting community in Arizona, caused by our miscommunication.
Let us be 100 percent clear. 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 as many as 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.
While we welcome legitimate uses of the national forests such as hunting and camping, we do have concerns about some other activities and uses that are becoming all too common. Specifically, we have seen a steady increase 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. We apply these regulations as a tool when appropriate to address this growing concern, consistent with state law. Practically speaking, visitors cited for abandoning vehicles and property represent an incredibly small percentage of the millions of visitors to the Kaibab and Coconino forests each year. The number of abandoned vehicles towed is an even smaller percentage. We also make every effort to locate and contact owners of property that we suspect has been abandoned prior to any enforcement action being taken.
The Kaibab and Coconino forests welcome hunters and other recreational visitors. We cherish our heritage of providing outstanding natural and cultural resources for members of the public to experience and enjoy. We have no interest in interfering with our visitors' legitimate uses of the forests, and we look forward to continuing our legacy of being a premiere destination for Arizona's hunters.
Below are previous communications from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to constituents regarding the 72-hour rule. The Forest Service has since clarified its communications and intent with regard to the rule (see above).
Warning to Arizona hunters camping on the Coconino, Kaibab and
Prescott National Forests (Posted Nov. 12, 2013)
On August 16, 2013, the Coconino National Forest issued a press release entitled “Parking trailers in forests prohibited during hunting season.” The press release is specific to the Coconino, Kaibab, and Prescott National Forests, and is directed exclusively at hunters and recreationists who leave their trailers and/or motor homes unattended on the forest for more than 72 hours. These sportsmen may be subject to enforcement action, including citations or impoundment of vehicles, trailers and/or motor homes. The release specifically states,
|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.
This is an unprecedented application of Forest Service regulations that relies on Arizona statutes for establishing a presumption of abandonment for a vehicle left unattended for more than 72 hours. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department is opposed to this unprecedented application of state and federal law to hunters who have absolutely no intent of abandoning their property. A stay limit of 14 days has been in effect on national forest lands for decades and is well understood and accepted by sportsmen and recreationists.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department, along with the Coconino and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Offices, are committed to protecting Arizona’s citizens and recreational visitors on national forest system lands.
The Department has met repeatedly with staff from the affected national forests to repeal this enforcement approach, with no success. Specifically, Director Larry Voyles, in a letter dated September 12, 2013, requested the following from Coconino National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart: 1) that all national forests in Arizona establish a uniform approach to address length of visitation, and 2) that national forests in Arizona return to an enforcement approach that allows visitors or their property, including trailers, to remain on the forest for 14 days, whether or not the property is continuously attended.
“The Commission feels strongly that public lands belong to the public, who clearly enjoy using those lands,” said Chairman J.W. Harris.“ A 72-hour rule imposes unacceptable and artificial restrictions on sportsmen and recreational users of the Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott National Forests.”
On Nov. 2, Chairman Harris moved and the Commission voted unanimously to have Director Voyles and the Department coordinate with Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil and Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher to develop a notification placard that visitors to Arizona’s national forests can affix to their property. The purpose of the placard is to provide notice that the owner or occupant of any property left temporarily unattended on the national forest has not abandoned the property. The placard lists the dates the property will be on the forest, states that the owner has not abandoned the property during any period of absence during those dates, and establishes that the length of stay on the forest will not exceed 14 days. Providing such notice may deter Forest Service personnel from impounding the property and/or pursuing enforcement actions. The placard includes this disclaimer: The Arizona Game and Fish Department provides this placard as a courtesy to sportsmen with no guarantee, representation or warranty that the notice placed on property will prevent impoundment, an enforcement action or be a defense to such actions. Any person using the placard understands and agrees to assume any risk that the notice will not prevent property seizure/impoundment or an enforcement action.
Hunters and outdoor recreationists may click on the link below to download and print the placard.
The Commission also directed the Department to communicate issues involving the 72-hour rule to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other relevant agencies, and to begin discussing appropriate legislation with lawmakers at state and national levels.
Specific questions can be directed to the following forest officials:
Brady Smith, Coconino Forest Public Affairs Officer, (928) 527-3490
Dean Jones, Coconino Forest Deputy Public Affairs Officer, (928) 527-3643
Brienne Magee, Flagstaff Ranger District Public Affairs Officer, (928) 527-8290
Jacque Banks, Kaibab Forest Public Affairs Officer (928) 635-8200
Debbie Maneely, Prescott Forest Public Affairs Officer (928) 443-8000
Hunters who experience unreasonable property seizures while recreating on national forests are encouraged to call the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Operation Game Thief hotline 1-800-352-0700 or the appropriate county Sheriff’s Office.
Coconino County Sheriff’s Office
Phone: (928) 774-4523 or (800) 338-7888
Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office
Phone: (928) 771-3260