The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been receiving inquiries from outdoor enthusiasts who are uncertain about new Forest Service Travel Management Rules and whether the rules apply to them and their favorite recreational areas. Many hunters, anglers, campers and wildlife watchers are especially concerned about how the new travel management rules are being enforced, especially in national forests located in Arizona.
In response to these questions and concerns, Arizona Game and Fish has issued law enforcement guidance to its wildlife officers. This effort will help ensure fair and consistent treatment of individuals who may be in violation of specific rules. However, this guidance applies only to Arizona Game and Fish officers. Other jurisdictions may handle the enforcement of travel management rules differently.
When heading out on a hunt or other outdoor activities, it’s a good idea to consult directly with the land management agency that has jurisdiction over the area you will be visiting (for example, contact a U.S. Forest Service office in the national forest you will be visiting).
Over a period of several years, each national forest located in Arizona has been working on establishing its own rules restricting motor vehicle use, pursuant to the federal Travel Management Rule (Federal Register, Vol. 70, No. 216). Some forests have already implemented Travel Management Rules for their areas, while other forests have not yet put any new rules into effect.
“The inconsistency in the Forest Service’s implementation of new restrictions across the different forests is likely to cause confusion for anyone hunting or recreating on forest lands,” said Gene Elms, law enforcement branch chief for Arizona Game and Fish. “We felt it necessary to issue this guidance so that our officers can deal fairly with individuals who are in violation of the rules.”
The Forest Service Travel Management Rules usually apply when people are driving to a camping location, often referred to as dispersed camping, driving off-road to retrieve big game, and to road closures/route designations. The rules require motor vehicles to stay on designated roads and trails. These areas are identified on a free Motor Vehicle Use Map, available at any U.S. Forest Service office. The rules vary from forest to forest, often resulting in unintentional violations.
Because various Travel Management Rules are inconsistent, Game and Fish's recently-issued guidelines encourage its wildlife officers to exercise discretion and promote education when appropriate. Whether a Game and Fish wildlife officer takes enforcement action will depend on the circumstances, and could include providing education, giving a written or verbal warning, or issuing a citation. Some of the situations where travel management rules and restrictions might cause confusion include:
- Motorized retrieval of big game. The restrictions on motorized retrieval of legally taken big game vary by forest and species. For example, in the Coconino National Forest, motorized retrieval is allowed only for elk, and only in certain Game Management Units. Confusingly, it is not allowed for other game species, such as deer.
- Dispersed camping. Restrictions on dispersed camping are also inconsistent and confusing, ranging from prohibited in some forests to permissible within 300 feet of a designated travel route in other forests.
- Road closures, signage and barriers. Road closures and route designations also vary by forest. Some roads remain open unless signed closed, some are closed unless signed open, some are designated “Administrative Use Only,” and some are closed in one forest yet open in an adjacent forest.
“Federal land management agencies are valuable partners in conservation law enforcement, and we’ll continue to enforce laws applicable to our authority that are critical to our mission and important to our customers,” said Elms. “However, we won’t expend law enforcement resources on low priority or counterproductive efforts that, due to their inconsistency, generate fear and uncertainty to outdoor recreationists and become a barrier to the public’s ability to enjoy responsible recreation on their public lands.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been negotiating with and providing input to the Forest Service on Travel Management Plans since 2005. Despite the best efforts of Arizona Game and Fish, the various forests in the state have failed to adopt a consistent approach to travel management.
To learn more about Travel Management Rules in effect in various national forests in Arizona, visit the websites of the different forests (in Arizona, the national forests are the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab, Prescott, and Tonto) or contact their offices.
Be sure to also stop by the offices of the national forests you visit, and ask for a free Motor Vehicle Use Map for the specific area in which you will be hunting, camping, and enjoying the great outdoors. You can also visit the official U.S. Forest Service website at www.fs.fed.us and use the site’s search feature to find rules for specific forests.