Did you know that the state of Utah has filed 29 lawsuits against the United States that seek to gain control of more than 14,000 rights of way totaling nearly 36,000 miles of dirt trails and routes on public lands.
These lawsuits could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and drag on for years — at a time when the state can barely afford to keep state parks open or fully fund education.
Some of the routes that the state is suing over aren’t even in dispute — everyone agrees that some of the rights of way are legitimate county roads.
But many others are roads that go nowhere, like these so-called “roads”:
What It’s About
The state is filing these claims under what’s known as RS2477.
A single-sentence law enacted in 1866, R.S. 2477 simply provides that “[t]he right of way for the construction of highways across public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”
Congress repealed R.S. 2477 when it passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976, but did so subject to valid existing rights — if an R.S. 2477 claim were valid in 1976, it remains valid today. Thirty-six years after R.S. 2477’s repeal, the State of Utah and a number of counties have sued the U.S. Interior Department to gain rights to over 14,000 of these so-called “highways.”
What’s At Stake
Today, R.S. 2477 is the most serious threat to the future of Utah’s remaining wild lands, designated wilderness, national parks, national monuments and other scenic wild lands.
If a court were to accept Utah’s argument that these R.S. 2477 claims — many of which are no more than cow paths, old seismic lines, dry stream beds, ORV tracks and hiking trails — are actually “highways” under this antiquated law, it would nullify or diminish longstanding protection for national parks, wilderness areas and other scenic landscapes. And it would slam the door on future protection of public lands.
That’s the real motive behind this massive litigation: blocking the protection of magnificent public lands and turning them over to extractive industries, off-road vehicles and developers.
All at Utah taxpayers’ expense.
What It Costs
Recently — after nearly five years of legal wrangling — a trial court judge granted the state of Utah title to 12 road claims that had been in dispute with the United States. After nearly five years of lawsuits, the state gained a mere 89 miles of roads.
And how much did the state of Utah spend? In a similar years-long battle in San Juan County, the state of Utah and the county spent more than a million dollars litigating a single route in Canyonlands National Park — and ultimately lost.
A million dollars of taxpayer money wasted in a lawsuit over a road to nowhere.
What You Can Do
Let’s not gamble our tax dollars on claims to cattle trails and dry washes. Governor Herbert can rein in this wasteful spending by ordering the state’s lawyers to settle the lawsuits now. But he needs to hear from you.
Here’s what you can do to stop this wasteful spending of our tax dollars:
1) Are you a Utah resident? Click here to tell Governor Herbert to drop the lawsuits over roads to nowhere.
Outside of Utah? Call Governor Herbert today at 1-800-705-2464.
2) Make a contribution to SUWA today. Your contribution will help put pressure on Governor Herbert to settle the state’s out-of-control lawsuits against the United States — and will safeguard our ability to continue to protect the beautiful red rock lands of Utah as wilderness.