RS 2477 Archives


  • November 8th, 2019

    Agency may hand over an alleged right-of-way to the state of Utah as it considers unprecedented public land giveaway

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    November 8, 2019

    Contacts:
    Alison Heis, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.384.8762
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552
    Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 202.266.0473
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518
    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    (Salt Lake City): The Interior Department announced today that it is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile gravel road in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a trial balloon that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control to tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails to the state of Utah, a state notorious for its anti-public lands agenda. The move could affect claimed rights-of-ways in national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas.

    Interior is relying on a controversial and unlawful tool known as “recordable disclaimers of interest” (RDIs) to cede title and control over federal public lands to the state of Utah and its counties. The state of Utah and its counties have filed more than twenty federal lawsuits over its 14,000 alleged rights-of-way. Those claims are brought under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “R.S. 2477.” The Trump administration is trying to use RDIs to throw in the towel in that federal court litigation.

    “If there was ever a case of the camel’s nose under the tent, this is it” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If the state of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands the state has been outspoken about its intent to pave these dirt roads and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and stop wilderness protection.”

    The George W. Bush administration was the first to attempt to use RDIs to give away public lands.  In 2003, the Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over claimed state and county R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. These regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997, on any such rules. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issued RDIs in Utah were withdrawn.

    “National parks could be next on the chopping block,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Today’s move by the Interior Department poses a real and immediate threat to national parks in Utah and across the West. Every cowpath and two-track can be claimed as a road and given away to virtually anyone under this regulation. Our national parks could be criss-crossed with roads in places where visitors enjoy the natural beauty and cultural sites.”

    The Department’s Bureau of Land Management is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposal and submit written comments. BLM may approve the state of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    “You can’t undo this kind of damage to our public lands legacy,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Interior has a duty to act as a steward of the lands and resources we all own—managing them and holding them in trust for future generations. Instead, the Trump administration is brazenly liquidating cherished places in a mercenary fire sale to a state that admits it will exploit them. It’s a reckless move that leaves all of us ecologically poorer.”

    The 10-mile claimed R.S. 2477 right-of-way that Interior is proposing to give away is located in Washington County, in southwestern Utah. Maps depicting of the state of Utah’s claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way in Washington County are available here and here. Almost every county in the state of Utah has hundreds if not thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that could be given away through the RDI process.

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  • May 1st, 2019

    For Immediate Release

    Decision Made Under Cover of Darkness to Push Through Garfield County’s Long-Held Desire to Pave Remote Desert Dirt Road

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981 steve@suwa.org

    Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director, The Wilderness Society, 303-225-4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Matt Abele, Communications Manager, National Parks Conservation Association, 510-851-3532, mabele@npca.org 

    Salt Lake City, UT (May 1, 2019) – The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Wilderness Society, and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve Garfield County, Utah’s request to chip-seal a seven and a half mile stretch of the remote Burr Trail near Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah.

    The BLM’s decision was made on Friday afternoon, April 26, 2019. The BLM notified Garfield County that afternoon, and work began almost immediately; by 9 am Tuesday morning, April 30, more than 2/3rds of the project was completed; Garfield County had staged equipment and gravel near the area in advance of the BLM’s decision to expedite completion of the project. The BLM did not publicly announce their Friday decision until 2 pm, Monday, April 29, 2019. BLM’s deliberate effort to hide its decision from public scrutiny while giving the County the green light to begin paving was unethical.

    Reports indicate that the decision to approve the rushed Environmental Assessment (EA), which had a mere 15-day comment period, was made at the highest levels in Washington, DC. The final decision consists of a 10 page document that is nearly identical to the initial EA, suggesting that public comments were not considered. The BLM found that Garfield County’s request to chip-seal the road was “necessary,” even though the County has no adjudicated legal right of way on the Burr Trail road, and would have “no adverse impact” on surrounding wild lands, contrary to repeated concerns  raised by the National Park Service on earlier proposals to chip seal the same section of road.

    A portion of the Burr Trail is chip-sealed by road crews in Garfield County, Utah, east of Capitol Reef National Park, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    Garfield County has sought to pave the Burr Trail for nearly 35 years. Under the Trump administration, their request was approved in less than 30 days, despite repeated denials of the request from previous Democratic and Republican administrations.

    “The chip-sealing of the Burr Trail near Capitol Reef National Park by Garfield County is proof that the state of Utah’s 20+ RS 2477 lawsuits, seeking title to rights of way over tens of thousands of miles of routes across federal public land in Utah, is driven by the desire to open up Utah wild lands to development,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director of the Southern Utah Alliance. “They literally want to pave it all.  Garfield County has now paved a stretch of dirt road in the middle of the desert. There is no better illustration of the state’s and counties’ true intentions behind their lawsuits seeking title to rights-of-way for remote routes traversing public lands in Utah. The fact that this decision was made from the very top by Trump officials in Washington, DC, is further proof that President Trump’s assault on Utah’s magnificent red rock wilderness persists.”

    A portion of the Burr Trail is chip-sealed by road crews in Garfield County, Utah, east of Capitol Reef National Park, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    “The decision was rushed through to allow work to commence before the ink was dry and with no apparent consideration of public comments,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This is a disturbing way to conduct business on public lands that are owned by all Americans, especially when the BLM knew of the longstanding and contentious nature of this proposed action.”

    “Mile by mile, Garfield County has chip-sealed the Burr Trail up to the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park with clear intent to continue right through the park boundary, up the iconic Burr Trail Switchbacks, to the other side,” said Cory MacNulty, Associate Director, Southwest Region of National Parks Conservation Association. “Maintaining unpaved access to the Waterpocket District is critical for the National Park Service to uphold its commitment to manage this area for its wilderness solitude and natural quiet, sense of backcountry adventure and discovery. With more than 15 million visitors drawn to Utah national parks each year, paving these areas will surely lead to significant increases in traffic, taking away from what makes these wild lands so special.”

    “Bisecting the wild and remote lands abutting Capitol Reef National Park and the Mt. Pennell Wilderness Study Area, the Burr Trail Road is dwarfed by towering 800-foot sandstone walls and the dramatic Waterpocket Fold. Its remote location makes it a critical refuge for unique flora and fauna, a home to rare geological features, and an oasis for the adventurous of heart. We know that paving these pristine wild lands is patently illegal and directly threatens the future of this unique and treasured place,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Utah Sierra Club, in a statement condemning the agency’s decision.

    Additional Resources:

    BLM documents from eplanning.blm.gov.

  • May 3rd, 2016

    Today, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order that clears the path for Tooele County resident Michael Abdo and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to move forward with a state court lawsuit that could derail the State of Utah’s RS 2477 litigation in Tooele County and beyond.

    Read More »
  • April 18th, 2016

    On April 4, the Utah Supreme Court heard oral argument on a pivotal question of state law that could affect the future of the state of Utah’s R.S. 2477 litigation. The question was “certified” by the federal court hearing the state of Utah’s suite of R.S. 2477 claims, a mechanism by which the federal court can enlist the state’s highest court to resolve novel questions of state law.  It’s a wonky question with big implications—whether a particular law is a “statute of repose” or a “statute of limitations.”  Should the Court decide it’s the former, it could mean the end of the state of Utah’s massive, wasteful, and anti-wilderness suite of R.S. 2477 litigation.

    The Court recently posted an audio recording of the argument.  SUWA was represented at oral argument by Jess Krannich, a partner at the Salt Lake City law firm of Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar, LLC.  We expect a decision by the end of this summer, but in the meantime, give it a listen!

    >>Click here to listen to audio recording.

  • February 24th, 2016

    The “Utah Test and Training Range Encroachment Prevention and Temporary Closure Act” (H.R. 4579), introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), aims to give away federal public lands under the guise of national security.

    A companion to Senator Hatch’s S. 2383, the legislation would withdraw roughly 625,000 acres of BLM lands to expand the Utah Test and Training Range—already the largest military training ground in the United States—purportedly to accommodate a new fleet of F-35 jets. But it goes well beyond that mission by granting 6,000 miles of RS 2477 rights-of-way to Box Elder, Juab, and Tooele counties.

    Write to your members of Congress and tell them to oppose this latest land grab attempt!

    These so-called routes, many of which are simply faded two-tracks, cow paths or streambeds in the desert, run directly across federal public lands and fragment critical habitats, proposed wilderness, wilderness study areas, and even parts of the designated Cedar Mountain Wilderness! Caught up in the state’s land grab fever, these counties have sued the federal government to wrest control of these bogus routes, but are unlikely to win the majority in court. Forfeiting them now in this bill would set a dangerous precedent, not just in Utah, but throughout the West.

    Tell your members of Congress that national defense is perfectly compatible with protecting our national heritage!

    CedarMtns2_RayBloxham

    Many of the so-called routes granted to counties in this bill are simply faded two-tracks, cow paths or streambeds that run directly across federal public lands and fragment critical habitats, proposed wilderness, wilderness study areas, and even parts of the designated Cedar Mountain Wilderness (above). Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    In addition, the legislation disregards bedrock environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, undermines the protection of proposed wilderness areas such as the Newfoundland Mountains, Deep Creek Mountains and Dugway Mountains, and facilitates a land exchange that would trade away wilderness-quality lands.

    Rep. Stewart’s proposed expansion is merely part of the broader effort by the State of Utah to seize our nation’s public lands. We need you to contact your member of Congress and expose this bill for what it is—a land grab shamelessly hiding under the guise of national security.

    Click here to take action now!

    Thank you.