RS 2477 Archives


  • September 9th, 2014

    Rejects Once and For All State of Utah and County Claim that Streambed in Salt Creek Canyon Is State “Highway”

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981 (office)
    Heidi McIntosh, Earthjustice, 303.996.9621 (office)

    (September 8, 2014) Salt Lake City, UT: This morning the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied petitions filed by San Juan County and the State of Utah which had sought rehearing or rehearing en banc of the Court’s April 2014 decision that Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park is not a state highway.

    In a brief written order, the court explained that no active member of the court asked that the whole court be “polled” to vote on whether to rehear the case.  In other words, the county and state’s arguments were rejected out of hand.

    “This order is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park.  And it should  be the end of the line for the State of Utah and San Juan County’s claim that the stream bottom of Salt Creek Canyon is a state highway,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    “With the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, Salt Creek will remain a place of quiet beauty, with healthy wildlife habitat and clean water, unpolluted by the hundreds of jeeps that used to churn through the stream every year,”  said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney at Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office who represented conservation groups that participated in the case.

    This order and the circuit court’s April decision will have important implications beyond the facts of this case.  The State of Utah and its counties are pursuing more than 20 similar cases asserting that approximately 36,000 miles of dirt trails and cowpaths are state highways.

    The next case to come before the circuit court is an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups’ 2013 ruling in favor of Kane County and the State of Utah that recognized highway rights of way to twelve routes in Kane County.  Several of those routes are primitive jeep routes and one is inside a wilderness study area.  Some of the issues in the Salt Creek decision, especially the circuit court’s ruling that use of a route by ranchers does not meet the law’s requirement that the route be used by the broader public, are also at issue in the appeal of Judge Waddoups’ ruling.

    Background:

    Salt Creek Canyon is one of the crown jewels of Canyonlands National Park.  It contains the only perennial stream in the Park (besides the Green and Colorado rivers) and is home to the Salt Creek National Register Archaeological District, the area with the highest recorded density of archaeological sites in the park.  Jeep use had polluted the water with engine fluids and degraded wildlife habitat for bears, fish and a host of other species.  All these impacts were well documented and resulted in the National Park Service’s decision to close the canyon to such use in 2004.

    The State of Utah and San Juan County relied on an 1866 law to argue that occasional jeep use and cattle trailing in Salt Creek Canyon created a public highway.  The Circuit Court’s April 2014 unanimous decision rejected these claims and affirmed the district court’s findings that this was not so.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, and The Wilderness Society were amici (friends of the court) in the case before the Tenth Circuit.  They were represented by attorneys from Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Earthjustice, and the law firm of Jenner & Block.

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    >> Read the Tenth Circuit ruling

    >> Read the 9/9/14 Salt Lake Tribune article, “Ruling sticks: Salt Creek not a county highway”

    >> Read about the original Tenth Circuit ruling on April 25, 2014

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  • July 29th, 2014

    Contend that state law bars Attorney General from bringing Tooele County RS 2477 lawsuit

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552 (cell) or 801.428.3981 (office)
    Brent V. Manning & Jess M. Krannich, Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar LLC, 801.363.5678

    (July 29, 2014) Salt Lake City, UT: Today a Tooele County resident and taxpayer, along with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, filed a lawsuit in Third District Court (state court) alleging that the State Attorney General acted illegally when he brought a federal lawsuit claiming more than 2,400 miles of alleged RS 2477 “roads” in Tooele County. The lawsuit asks the court to bar the State from pursuing or funding its federal lawsuit seeking title over RS 2477 “roads” in Tooele County and to declare that the Attorney General acted illegally when he brought the case in the first place.

    CedarMtns2_RayBloxham

    Cedar Mountain Wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    “The State’s lawsuit threatens some of Tooele County’s wildest places, including the Cedar Mountain Wilderness and North Stansbury and Indian Peaks proposed wilderness areas,” said Michael Abdo, a Tooele County resident. “These are places I go with friends, family, and Boy Scouts to appreciate their natural beauty and quiet. The State’s attempt to establish ‘roads’ in these areas is misguided, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

    In the past decade the State legislature has spent millions of dollars in an ill-advised effort to claim that alleged “roads,” including faded two-tracks and stream bottoms, are actually State highways that can be improved and paved to a minimum width of 66 feet. Some are virtually impossible to locate. Often the routes lead to no landmark or destination, and are not part of any reasonably described transportation network.   The legislature funds its RS 2477 litigation campaign from millions allocated to the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, the Constitutional Defense Council, and the Attorney General’s Office.

    DugwayMtnsWIA_RayBloxham

    Dugway Mountains proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    “The State’s RS 2477 litigation is part of its larger effort to take control of public lands and block congressional wilderness designation,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If successful, this lawsuit will bring an end to the state’s expensive and senseless campaign.”

    State law bars the State from bringing a lawsuit claiming title to real property unless its right or title accrued within seven years of the filing of the case. Here, the State’s alleged title to RS 2477 rights-of-way accrued no later than 1976, when Congress repealed that statute. Thus, the State’s power to bring a lawsuit seeking title over RS 2477 “roads” in Tooele County lapsed more than 25 years before the State filed its case.

    The State’s and Toole County’s lawsuit is brought directly contrary to Utah law and the constitutional requirement that the State Attorney General act in accordance with Utah law. According to the plain language of the applicable Utah statute: “The state may not bring an action against any person for or with respect to any real property, its issues or profits, based upon the state’s right or title to the real property, unless: (1) the right or title to the property accrued within seven years before any action or other proceeding is commenced […]”Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-201 (emphasis added). Nonetheless, the State is disregarding its own laws to pursue an anti-wilderness agenda.

    CedarMtns_RayBloxham

    Cedar Mountain Wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    It is popular in this state to criticize the courts if they do not follow the plain language of the law as enacted by the Utah legislature. Here, the language chosen by the legislature is clear: “the state may not bring an action … unless the right … to the property accrued within seven years…” Notwithstanding this clear prohibition, the Attorney General and Toole County are spending millions of dollars in direct violation of Utah law to pursue what Public Land Policy Coordination Office Director Kathleen Clarke recently described as “the largest litigation ever taken on by the State of Utah.” With this lawsuit, Mr. Abdo and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance seek to stop the wasteful and illegal expenditure of taxpayer money, the apparent object of which is to disqualify lands for Wilderness designation.

    The State’s RS 2477 lawsuit in Tooele County is one of more than twenty-five (25) lawsuits filed by the State of Utah and its counties claiming more than 14,000 rights of way totaling nearly 35,000 miles of dirt trails and routes on public lands. Taken together, this massive litigation threatens several national parks and monuments as well as iconic Utah wilderness landscapes.

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    Click to view  map of RS 2477 claims
    TooeleCo_EntireCounty

     

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  • July 8th, 2014
    Anti-federal protesters join San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on an illegal ride through Recapture Canyon on May 10, 2014.

    Anti-federal protesters join San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on an illegal ride through Recapture Canyon on May 10, 2014.

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and our partners at The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Great Old Broads for Wilderness delivered a letter to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze requesting that his agency continue to protect the irreplaceable prehistoric cultural resources in Recapture Canyon. We urged the director not to abdicate his agency’s responsibility to comply with the BLM’s federal travel planning regulations by giving a right-of-way to San Juan County for the illegally constructed ORV trail through the canyon. We also called upon the director to ensure that, once the agency completes its investigation, it will take all appropriate steps to fully prosecute the individuals who violated the agency’s ORV closure in the canyon on May 10th during Commissioner Lyman’s illegal ORV event.

    We recognize the challenges facing the BLM in managing our public lands and preserving our cultural heritage, especially in response to recent acts of opposition to the agency’s authority.  However, failing to enforce federal laws that were enacted to protect priceless archaeological treasures merely opens the door for further vandalism and other illegal acts.

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  • May 29th, 2014

    On May 10, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led dozens of anti-federal government protesters driving off-road vehicles (ORVs) past the BLM’s signs prohibiting ORV use into Recapture Canyon. Although there are approximately 4,000 miles of designated routes open to ORV use on public lands in San Juan County (2,820 miles managed by the Monticello BLM and another 1,000 miles managed by the Moab BLM), Commissioner Lyman said he was leading the illegal ORV ride to protest the “jurisdictional creep” of the federal government and the notion that the BLM “arbitrarily shut down a road in San Juan County.”

    Far from an arbitrary action, BLM’s 2007 closure of the Recapture trail to motorized vehicles was based on evidence that the illegally constructed ORV trail and subsequent ORV use was causing adverse effects to the prehistoric cultural resources in and near the trail. Please tell the BLM it should maintain the existing closure to protect these resources rather than giving a right-of-way for the illegal trail to San Juan County.

    The illegal event in Recapture Canyon is but another result of the misguided “take back federal lands” rhetoric spewed by a small cadre of western elected officials. Commissioner Lyman’s “childish snit fit,” which showed complete disregard for irreplaceable prehistoric cultural resources, is a perfect example of why state and local officials should not be entrusted with our public lands legacy.

    Commission Lyman’s statements to the media that “[i]t feels great” after riding into the closed area illustrate a complete disrespect for both federal law and the Native Americans who continue to honor the cultural values of the canyon today. The commissioner’s actions in defiance of the BLM’s ORV Closure Order and in violation of laws enacted to protect our cultural heritage must not go unpunished.

    Most importantly, the BLM must continue to protect the archaeological resources of Recapture Canyon and not cave to political pressure to give San Juan County a right-of-way for the illegally constructed route. Click here to send a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze asking him to deny the county’s right-of-way request for the illegal ORV trails in Recapture Canyon.

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