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Forest Service clarifies stance on hunters’ trailers; state officials withdraw protest

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PHOENIX – After state officials cried foul over a U.S. Forest Service announcement threatening to tow hunters’ unattended trailers, the agency has clarified its stance to the satisfaction of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

An Aug. 16 news release from the Coconino National Forest Service said that in previous years law enforcement officers have found “numerous” trailers parked in the forest to reserve locations for the entire hunting season and avoid hauling them back and forth.

“If trailers are left unattended for more than 72 hours, the Forest Service considers them abandoned property and may remove them from the forest,” the release said.

In November, a Game and Fish news release called the threat to tow trailers unprecedented and a departure from a decade-old limit of 14 straight days that people are allowed to stay in national forests. Director Larry Voyles sent the Forest Service a letter explaining his agency’s concerns, and U.S. Sen. John McCain’s office made its own inquiry.

On Dec. 9, the Forest Service issued a news release in which supervisors of the Coconino and Kaibab national forests said that hunters and campers won’t have their property cited or towed if they exceed 72 hours away from their sites and said the 14-day policy remains in place. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell sent McCain a letter saying the controversy stemmed from a miscommunication.

Forest Service spokeswoman Jacqueline Banks said the original news release caused confusion because it was unclear about the agency’s intentions.

“We want to emphasize that we do have legitimate issues in the forest,” Banks said.

However, she added, “People who are out and using the forest recreationally are not at risk of being towed or cited.”

Game and Fish has issued its own news release calling attention to the Forest Service’s follow-up.

“We think it clarifies the positions, and we consider the matter resolved and closed,” said Tom Cadden, a Game and Fish spokesman.

Steve Clark, executive director of the Arizona Elk Society, said that the Forest Service did the right thing by clarifying its intent.

“Seems like everything, if they follow what they said in their release, will be OK in the future,” he said.