RS 2477 Roads Litigation Update: SUWA Heads into the New Year on a Strong Note

Last year at this time we were reeling under the weight of the State of Utah’s 25+ newly filed R.S. 2477 lawsuits which claimed title to more than 14,000 roads covering more than 36,000 miles. Few wild places were spared from this onslaught. Not national parks. Not the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. And certainly not Utah’s red rock wilderness.

A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

A San Juan County RS 2477 Claim in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

What a difference a year makes.

While all of these places are still threatened by the State’s tsunami of litigation, SUWA and its partners– working closely with more than two dozen attorneys from six national and local law firms and our own in-house legal team– have clawed our way to have a seat at the table. Much work remains to be done but it’s worth pausing to consider what we’ve accomplished:

  • SUWA has successfully intervened in the 18 cases that threaten Utah’s red rock wilderness. This is no small feat when you consider the sheer number of legal briefs, exhibits, etc. that had to be filed for each of these cases. It’s also notable given a string of close losses that we suffered from 2008-2011 which made it harder for us to intervene and participate as parties in these critical cases. Remarkably, the Obama Justice Department has opposed our status as an “intervenor of right” at every turn, arguing that only the United States should be able to fully defend against the State’s lawsuits.
  • Just last week a federal judge granted us the right to participate in the State’s so-called “preservation depositions” where the State is trying to memorialize the testimony of aged and/or inform witnesses.  These depositions are one of the State’s primary tools to proving its cases.  Prior to this ruling, we had to rely on the US Justice Department to ask our questions for us, which they didn’t always want to do.  This decision is a significant step towards defending Utah’s red rock wilderness.
  • The Tenth Circuit court of appeals recently (and provisionally, pending review by a three-judge panel) granted our motion to intervene in the United States’ appeal of a March 2013 decision by a federal judge which granted 12 rights-of-way to Kane County and the State.  These included the so-called “North Swag” route, a claimed highway (impassable in some places) within the Grand Staircase national monument and a wilderness study area.  The United States, State of Utah, and Kane County all strongly oppose our motion to intervene.

What hasn’t changed over the past year is the State’s zeal to do what it takes to be able to punch roads into the heart of Utah’s red rock wilderness. That’s why it continues to pour millions of dollars into attorneys, analysts, GIS staff, etc. to push these cases. In short, these lawsuits remain one the biggest threats we face today.
Thanks to your support, we’re starting to turn the corner and will be bringing the fight to the State in 2014.

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