RS 2477


  • March 4th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management Failed to Decide the Application During the Trump Administration

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contacts: Michelle White, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.236.3775

    Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, 213.814.8666

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518

    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    Salt Lake City, UT (March 4, 2021)  – The State of Utah and Washington County, Utah, have quietly withdrawn an application claiming joint ownership interest in the Manganese Road, a 10-mile dirt road in the southwestern corner of Utah that crosses federal public lands and forms part of the southern boundary of the Square Top proposed wilderness.  

    At the end of 2019, the state and county collaborated with the Trump administration’s BLM to attempt to use a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to request the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) give away the United States’ interest in the Manganese road. 

    RDIs were developed by the George W. Bush administration in an attempt to give away public lands. In 2003, the Bush Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over rights-of-way claimed by states and counties pursuant to an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” The 2003 RDI regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issue RDIs to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in Utah were also withdrawn.

    “The Manganese Road application was a trial balloon that, if successful, would have opened the door for the BLM to cede public control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as highways across federal public lands,” said Michelle White, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The RDI process is simply an effort by the State of Utah to secure title to claimed rights-of way-without having to prove their claims in court.” 

    “Once again, another unsubstantiated road claim under this illegal regulation is withdrawn,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “National parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and many other protected lands will continue to be threatened by this regulation that can turn cow paths and two-tracks into highways. Now is the time to do away with this regulation once and for all.”

    “Amen to the failure of yet another eleventh hour Trump administration sleight-of-hand. If this questionable ploy had worked, it would have relinquished federal land held in trust for all of us,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It also would have set a dangerous precedent, opening the door to more unsavory backhanded deals to develop lands that should be protected.”

    The RDI application is the latest in a decades-long attempt by the State of Utah to secure title to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    Coinciding with the RDI application withdrawal is the one-year anniversary of the end of the “bellwether trial” that will determine if fifteen R.S. 2477 claims, located in Kane County, are valid. Despite the lengthy time elapsed since the trial concluded, a decision from the trial court is not anticipated until 2022, or later, due in part to the complicated nature of the factual and legal issues.  

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  • January 25th, 2021

    State of Utah’s sprawling litigation claiming more than 12,000 dirt paths and stream bottoms as “highways” threatens redrock wilderness across the state

    Contacts: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.815.3158, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Brian Fletcher, Stanford Law School Supreme Court Clinic, 917.453.9477, bfletcher@stanford.edu 

    Salt Lake City – Today, the US Supreme Court denied requests by the US Solicitor General and the State of Utah to overturn a 2019 decision that granted two conservation groups, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society, the right to intervene in a sweeping series of lawsuits that threatens to riddle the state’s wildest public lands with roads.

    In what are known as petitions for writ of certiorari, the United States and Utah attempted to overturn a decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by contending that the conservation groups’ undeniable interests in southern Utah’s remarkable red rock wilderness were insufficient to permit intervention in the litigation. The Supreme Court denied the petitions in an unsigned order issued this morning.

    “We’re pleased the Supreme Court denied these petitions and look forward to vigorously defending our members’ and the United States’ interests in the wildest, most remote corners of southern Utah,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The State’s litigation, claiming highways in stream bottoms and cow paths, has always been about who controls federal public lands in Utah, with the goal to riddle these landscapes with roads and make them ineligible for congressional Wilderness designation. This absolutely cuts to the core of our mission.”

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    “We are focused on using science and common sense to protect our land, our air, and our water for the health of our communities and for future generations,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “Today’s decision not to review our participation in this important case recognized that our input is valuable when decisions are made about the impacts development could have on our shared public lands. There are appropriate places for roads, but cutting through Utah’s spectacular red rock wildlands and creek beds are not those places.”

    The conservation groups had sought to intervene in the litigation to defend the United States’ title in so-called R.S. 2477 rights of way, referring to an obscure provision in the 1866 Mining Act that authorized the construction of highways across the western frontier to support settlement and development. Utah has weaponized this long-repealed law to file more than 20 lawsuits alleging more than 12,000 rights of way totaling more than 32,000 miles across federal public lands in the state. Rather than constitute any kind of a reasonable rural transportation network, the vast majority of these claimed highways are in fact unmaintained dirt two-tracks, cow paths and stream bottoms. Thousands of miles of Utah’s claimed highways are located in national parks, national monuments, designated wilderness areas, and other wild Utah lands.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society are represented by Jeffrey Fisher, Brian Fletcher and Pamela Karlan at Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic; Chad Derum and Trevor Lee at the Salt Lake City law firm Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar; and Stephen Bloch and Michelle White at the Utah-based Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

  • December 10th, 2019
    Mojave Desert Tortoise Graphic

    Utah’s public lands are facing death by a thousand cuts. And now the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) near St. George—home to the densest population of threatened Mojave desert tortoise anywhere on earth—is on the chopping block.

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is being pressured by Washington County, Utah, to let the State of Utah build a four-lane highway through the heart of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

    They’re  hoping to sneak this proposal through during the holiday season—and they’ve given just 30 days for the public to comment.

    Tell the BLM: no way to a highway through the Red Cliffs NCA!

    If this highway is allowed it will:

    ● Bisect Red Cliffs NCA east to west with a four-lane highway;

    ● Irrevocably damage habitat for the already-threatened Mojave desert tortoise and 20 other species of sensitive wildlife; and

    ● Set a terrible national precedent that National Conservation Areas can be bulldozed and paved.

    We can’t let Washington County succeed in creating a major loophole in the Endangered Species Act, letting them go back on a promise made in 1996 to permanently protect Red Cliffs, the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, and quality of life in southern Utah.

    Please take action today. Tell the BLM to protect the Mojave desert tortoise and the integrity of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area by rejecting the “Northern Corridor” highway proposal today.

    Click here to tell the BLM what you think of their plans to build a highway through Red Cliffs NCA.

    Thank you for taking action.

  • December 6th, 2019

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile dirt road (the so-called “Manganese Road”) in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a test case brought by the State of Utah that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as rights-of-way across federal public lands.

    The State of Utah and its counties have filed more than 20 federal lawsuits claiming title to 14,000 alleged rights-of-way totaling approximately 35,000 miles. They are pursuing their claims under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act known as “Revised Statute 2477” (aka R.S. 2477).

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The Trump administration’s BLM is trying to give the state a leg up by using a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to simply surrender control over federal public lands to the State of Utah and its counties. In other words, the BLM is essentially telling the state “don’t bother with that cumbersome litigation, we’ll just give you everything you’re after.”

    Click here to tell the BLM to reject the state’s unlawful RDI application! The public comment deadline is this Monday, December 9th.

    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. Many of these claims are nothing more than cow paths, streambeds, and two-tracks in the desert.

    And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands it has been outspoken about its intent to widen, improve, and even pave these dirt paths and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review Utah’s proposal and submit written comments. To make matters worse, the agency is only providing the one-sided application from Utah for reference and is refusing to share the agency’s own information and analysis about this claim.  At this point the BLM does not plan to offer a second comment period to allow the public to review and comment on the agency’s findings.

    The BLM may approve the State of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    Please join with our Senate champion Richard Durbin, along with Senators Feinstein, Baldwin, Udall, and Heinrich, and tell the BLM to reject Utah’s RDI application.

    Thank you!

  • 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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