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Republican legislation pushes back on federal travel management rules

Arizona residents’ ability to utilize off-highway vehicles in the state’s federally managed forests will soon be enhanced thanks to legislation sponsored by State Senator Chester Crandell (R-Heber) and House Majority Leader David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista).

HB2551 (off-highway vehicles; use; authority; enforcement) began as legislation sponsored by Majority Leader Gowan and was drafted with the assistance of Arizona’s county sheriffs and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. The bill later became a striker and was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. It is designed to protect public access to national forests by clarifying that state law enforcement may only impose off-highway vehicle restrictions on land under the jurisdiction of the state and open federal roads.

The legislation also gives the Arizona Game and Fish Department flexibility to decide whether to enforce restrictions on cross-country travel that could interfere with hunting, fishing and recreational activities. Senator Crandell’s amendment to HB2551 comes in response to federal travel management rules that place new and unprecedented restrictions. The federal actions have been met by a public outcry from local and state elected officials as well as hunters, sportsmen, campers and OHV users.

Navajo County Supervisor David Tenney has been among the most vocal opponents to the new rules. Rejecting the federal governments rationale, he stated, “For years, my family and I have hunted, fished and camped in the forest. Now, the Forest Service is telling me and my constituents that we can’t because of a policy decision that is out of touch with the customs and culture of our region. That’s not right.”

Testifying in the Senate Government Committee, Supervisor Tenney expressed his gratitude to Senator Crandell and Representative Gowan for their efforts. “This is a worthwhile cause. There are many citizens in my county and across the state who are thankful for this legislation.”

Supervisor Tenney’s comments were echoed by representatives of Arizona’s county sheriffs. “Arizona’s county sheriffs wholeheartedly endorse House Bill 2551 and appreciate the sponsors’ willingness to move this important legislation forward,” said Jen Sweeney, Deputy Director of the Arizona Association of Counties.

Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner Kurt Davis expressed the Commission’s unanimous support for the bill stating, “One purpose of this legislation is to reaffirm the Game and Fish Department’s leading role in protecting wildlife habitats while ensuring that the use of our law enforcement resources are not spent on efforts that, in some instances, unreasonably reduce the opportunities for Arizona’s families to fish, hunt, camp, or enjoy wildlife viewing or responsible off-highway vehicle recreation.”

Davis emphasized that the department’s education programs, scientific evaluation and law enforcement activities related to protecting wildlife habitats will continue and will be done without impeding Arizonan’s ability to enjoy the outdoors. “This legislation simply strengthens the department’s legally recognized role to manage wildlife across all our public lands and ensures that role is more appropriately recognized and respected,” he said.

Senator Crandell acknowledged the widespread public support for HB2551 stating, “As a father and grandfather, I have spent countless nights sleeping under the stars with my children and grandchildren. I am outraged that federal bureaucrats in Washington D.C. are trying to take that experience away. It’s time for Arizona to take a stand against these federal rules and I am proud to sponsor the legislation that will accomplish that.”

Representative Gowan agreed stating, “For too long, Arizona has stood by while federal agencies place more and more restrictions on our public lands. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation with Senator Crandell and look forward to protecting Arizona families’ right to enjoy the great forests of our state”

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