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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Salt Lake City, UT (March 4, 2021) – The State of Utah and Washington County, Utah, have quietly withdrawn an application claiming joint ownership interest in the Manganese Road, a 10-mile dirt road in the southwestern corner of Utah that crosses federal public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 Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issue RDIs to alleged R.S. 2477 claims in Utah were also withdrawn.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“Once again, another unsubstantiated road claim under this illegal regulation is withdrawn,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association.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.
# # #
Here in the Beehive State, politicians of the Bundy persuasion have denounced federal ownership of America’s public lands for generations, helping spawn a movement that High Country News called “a nationwide confluence of right-wing and libertarian extremists” intent on stealing our public lands heritage.
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.
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.
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.
Utah’s faulty equation for seizing our public lands just doesn’t add up.
The Salt Lake Tribune writes:
Ken Ivory is a snake oil salesman.
The Utah legislator is, just as his new worst enemies from a liberal interest group proclaim, traveling around the West, enriching himself by peddling a total phantasm about how if state and local governments keep giving Ivory’s American Lands Council more money, he will find a way to undo a century of public policy, and every decent impulse of the American people, and force the United States government to turn over millions of acres of federal land to the states.
Disgraceful? Clearly. Criminal? That’s a reach.
We agree with the Salt Lake Tribune. Rep. Ivory distorts the facts, dodges the truth, misconstrues history, and advances a disastrous vision that would deprive us of our public lands. He needs to answer for his organization’s compliance with lobbying rules in neighboring states.
However, advocating for terrible public policy is not a crime. Those counties providing funding for Rep. Ivory seeking to take our public lands are misguided but they are not victims. As the Tribune says, the are co conspirators advancing ideas that will be relegated to the dustbin of history. While the truth and the best interest of the public is against him, his political speech should be allowed. We all benefit from an open dialogue about these issues. Rep. Ivory’s positions will fail; let them die of their own deficiencies.