• 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

  • August 15th, 2014

    As the 50th Anniversary of Canyonlands National Park approaches next month, Utahns and others across the country are pushing for President Obama to declare the 1.8 million acres of public lands surrounding the park as a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

    To illustrate the importance of protecting Greater Canyonlands for future generations, groups of young people and college students have created a series of short films shot in the area.  Two have been released so far, with more to be posted in the weeks ahead.

    The first in this series features students from Brigham Young University (BYU):

    BYU GC Video (screenshot)

    When Utah high school student Kelsey Oliver learned about the campaign to convince President Obama to protect Greater Canyonlands she leapt into action, organizing a student excursion to the area:

    Rowland Hall GC Video (screenshot)

    After you’ve watched the videos, please take a moment to tell President Obama your reasons for protecting Greater Canyonlands.

     

  • July 30th, 2014
    Canyonlands Overlook, GrantCollier

    Copyright Grant Collier

    Big news coming out of Washington today!  This week, 14 senators, led by Senator Dick Durbin, sent a letter to President Obama encouraging him to use the Antiquities Act to designate Greater Canyonlands a National Monument. These senators recognize that Greater Canyonlands is a national treasure that remains unprotected.

    “Although Canyonlands National Park is the heart of the area, we support the opportunity to protect Greater Canyonlands, a 1.8 million acre area of land that encompasses the Park,” the senators wrote. “Greater Canyonlands is one of our nation’s most stunning, wild, and unique landscapes.  It should be protected permanently for the benefit and education of future generations.”

    This hasn’t happened before in this administration.  Fourteen senators, representing 13 states and more than 100 million Americans, asked President Obama to create a new national monument.  Those senators are Sen. Durbin (IL), Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), Sen. Brian Schatz (HI), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Patty Murray (WA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Sen. Ed Markey (MA), Sen. Tom Harkin (IA), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ).

    If you live in one of these states, please thank your senator!

    The senators wrote, “The promise of Greater Canyonlands remains unfulfilled.  As Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has noted, ‘there are some places that are too special to develop.’   Greater Canyonlands is certainly one of those.  We urge you to consider using your authority under the Antiquities Act to write the final chapter for this national treasure and declare Greater Canyonlands a national monument.”

    We’re so grateful to these senators.  Add your voice here by asking President Obama to protect Greater Canyonlands!

    Read the senators’ letter:
    Greater Canyonlands ltr to President (thumbnail)

  • 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

     

  • July 23rd, 2014

    Suzanne Stensaas, a professor of neurobiology and anatomy, did a great interview on Salt Lake City’s FOX13 about the letter from health professionals urging President Obama to create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

    Also be sure to check out the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of the letter.

    Are you a health care professional? Add your name to the letter to Obama.