A federal district court judge granted Kane County and the State of Utah title to this largely impassable route in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA.

As reported in our last newsletter, litigation over Utah’s right-of-way claims to roads across public lands is gathering steam.  Relying on a 19th Century law known as Revised Statute (RS) 2477, the state and rural counties are asserting claims covering 36,000 miles across the state.

If Utah and its rural counties succeed in this litigation they will shred wild Utah.  Faint two-track routes, present-day cow paths, and impassable desert routes could all become “highways.”  It could mark the end of the redrock wilderness dream.  And never doubt that that is precisely the intent of this multi-million-dollar folly. Win, lose or draw, it will pick the pockets of Utah taxpayers; if it succeeds, it will ravage the American public’s pristine lands.

At the end of March, Federal District Court Judge Clark Waddoups issued a decision on 15 claimed RS 2477 rights-of-way in Kane County that illustrate the danger.  Judge Waddoups granted title to the state and Kane County for most of the 15 routes, which generally did not threaten proposed wilderness.  Unfortunately, he also granted the state and county one particularly egregious route inside both proposed wilderness and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (the “North Swag” route pictured below).

To prevent similar calamities, SUWA has assembled a team of prominent attorneys from law firms across the country.  Our first challenge is to be allowed to participate in the lawsuits.  Much of our legal team appeared in Utah federal district court in May to argue for our participation in the suits involving five counties: Garfield, Sevier, Uintah, Washington, and Wayne.  Fortunately, in June, Judge Clark Waddoups granted SUWA intervention.

We are also completing briefing in our efforts to join RS 2477 litigation in other counties, including Kane, Carbon, and Duchesne.

At issue are thousands of miles of claimed routes, many utterly invisible, many others nothing more than dirt trails created by motorized users who can’t stand the sight of an untracked landscape.  All of them are threats to wilderness—perhaps the most critical the redrock has ever faced.  We will continue to update you as things unfold.

—David Garbett

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, summer 2013 issue)