Wildlife groups support AZ forest road closure

A coalition of Arizona sportsmen associations has gone on record as favoring much of the proposed changes in motor vehicle access rules recommended by the Forest Service.

In a letter to Director Duane Shoufe of the Arizona Game & Fish Department, the presidents of Trout Unlimited, Arizona Elk Society and the Arizona Wildlife Foundation stated they favor most of the proposal because they feel the rules will support and sustain the wildlife populations.

However, they do recommend some changes and state in the letter that they will work to see those changes are included in the final rules.

The letter is the coalition's official public comment on the Travel Management Rule, a sweeping directive that requires all National Forests to limit off-road travel and establish manageable road systems.

The letter lists nine bullet-pointed recommendations that address dispersed camping, game retrieval, road closures and off-road travel.

The coalition supports a reduction in the number of roads, recommending a limit of two miles of open road and trails for every section or square mile of land.

They also favor the establishment of quiet areas where ATVs and other off road vehicles would not be permitted.

They recommend that the Forest Service take a more active role in restoration and enforcement through the use of more signs, education and public outreach.

They favor dispersed camping but with consideration for the protection of wildlife habitat.

According to one of the signatories on or the letter, Fred Fillmore with Trout Unlimited, the coalition favors the 100-foot restriction on dispersed camping.

Under the rules currently being proposed by the Coconino National Forest, camping would be limited to established and existing dispersed campsites and that all recreational vehicles would have to stay within 100 feet of a designated roadway.

"We want to observe the 100-foot rule as much as possible," Fillmore said. "By opening the door where people can go back in without a limit, you are opening it up to destroying what you are trying to protect."

The coalition does, however, recommend loosening the proposed rules to permit use of off-road vehicles to retrieve big game.

"This should be considered within the framework of a hunting license or some form of one time authorization," the letter states.

Overall the coalition sees the Travel Management Rules as an opportunity to further their efforts to protect wildlife.

"It's not going to be an easy adjustment," Fillmore said. "But if we are gong to protect that environment we are going to have to come up with a reasonable approach. Otherwise, it's going to be wide open and what little bit we have out there will be destroyed.

"There is just too much pressure."

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