Missing the Forest

Regulations in the wild


State and federal officials in Arizona are fighting the latest skirmish in a long-running war over rules governing human use of wild areas.

In August the U.S. Forest Service issued a terse press release requiring hunters to move their camps every 72 hours in half of Arizona's forests. The notice threatened not just to cite violators but to remove trailers and other equipment, under the assumption that they are "abandoned property."

But according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, campers have typically been allowed to stay in place for 14 days. In a letter to the Forest Service, department director Larry D. Voyles pointed out that most Arizona hunts last a week or longer. "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," Voyles wrote. Threatening to fine hunters and impound their equipment, he warned, will drive people away. By contrast, the state has reduced and simplified rules to lure people to fishing and hunting, which have lost popularity in recent years.

Unsuccessful in their negotiations, state and county officials created a placard to be placed on camping equipment, proclaiming "this property is not abandoned" and warning that "any attempt to seize, move, or otherwise control this property will be treated as an act of theft." In December federal supervisors of the Kaibab and Coconino national forests "clarified" their position, denying that they had threatened hunters' property-even as the original press release remained available online.