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Coronado National Forest to visitors: "Unauthorized activities" at border are public safety concern

Hunters, others urged to avoid area
Posted at 11:17 AM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-01 09:50:47-05

COCHISE COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN) — Officials from Coronado National Forest (CNF) are warning visitors to the area to stay clear of the southern border—specifically to avoid the Copper Canyon area where Governor Doug Ducey's administration has had a makeshift wall of shipping containers constructed to 'fill gaps' in the wall separating Arizona from Sonora, Mexico.

In an official release, spokespeople from CNF warned the public about "safety hazards" and "unauthorized armed security personnel," and said visitors to the national forest should not go near the area:

Last month, the State of Arizona initiated an unauthorized project to install numerous shipping containers in the Coronado National Forest which may be creating safety hazards.

The State’s project, currently located in the vicinity of Copper Canyon south of National Forest System Road 61 in the Sierra Vista Ranger District, continues to expand, with attendant construction equipment and unauthorized armed security personnel on-site.

The Forest Service has informed the State that the presence of the containers is unlawful.

CNF specifically is urging caution for hunters, who they say should call the Arizona Game and Fish Department at 1-800-352-0700 with any questions regarding hunting in this area.

“The roads are not designed to handle these large of vehicles. They are designed to handle small passenger cars, trucks. So they are getting impacted by this much traffic," said Starr Farrell of the U.S. Forest Service. "There is a possibility people who are armed out there and so we don’t want any of those conflicts to occur.”

The area is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and the Bureau of Reclamation has previously told Ducey that the placement of the containers on federal land is unlawful.

The bureau has also claimed that Ducey's activities are interfering with Customs and Border Protection's contract to complete a wall, already in progress.

The Cocopah Tribe also has alleged that the border 'wall' is being constructed against its wishes, while various environmental groups have also come out in opposition of the container placement.

Farrell said the Forest Service

“We’re seeing an impact to our environment," Farrell said. "These are going in very quickly and because these are getting placed so quickly, normal procedures [didn't take] place. This was an unauthorized project and because of that these containers did not go through a normal process that we would normally do to make sure that area would be able to support the installation.”

Cochise County residents too are raising questions, too.

For months, people in Whetstone have seen trucks and shipping containers come through their area. But little is actually know about the project and its duration

The containers are being stored on land off of Highway 90 and can be seen by residents and commuters.

“It an inconvenience really, said Jennifer Gray of Cochise County. "They tell me they are here for the border. They are going to Nogales, on to Douglas, but they keep bringing in more. And they have security so it really make me wonder what they are really here for and for how long."

Ducey has shown no signs that he plans to stop construction.

The Ducey administration has filed a lawsuit against the federal government—against the Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Agriculture, specifically—seeking to affirm the autonomy to, as Ducey worded it in a tweet, "protect our state."

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Anne Simmons is a digital content producer for KGUN 9. Anne got her start in television while still a student at the University of Arizona. Before joining KGUN, she managed multiple public access television stations in the Bay Area and has worked as a video producer in the non-profit sector. Share your story ideas and important issues with Anne by emailing anne.simmons@kgun9.com or by connecting on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing alexis.ramanjulu@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, or Twitter.