Interior Department Accelerates Public Lands Giveaway

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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