Federal Court Confirms Conservation Groups’ Participation in Lawsuit Threatening Public Lands

Mar 5th, 2024 Written by suwa

March 5, 2024

Federal Appeals Court Confirms Conservation Groups’ Right to Participate in Lawsuit Threatening Utah’s Remarkable Federal Public Lands – 3.5.24 

SUWA Statement on 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Bellwether Decision

Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA);
Grant Stevens, Communications Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA); (319) 427-0260;

Salt Lake City, UT Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued an opinion confirming that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other conservation organizations (collectively, “SUWA”) have a right to participate as full parties in litigation brought by the State of Utah and Kane County (UT) that threatens federal public lands in places like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

SUWA Legal Director Stephen Bloch issued the following statement regarding the opinion:

“The Court’s opinion confirms that SUWA has a right to participate in this critical lawsuit and to defend its members’ interests in Utah’s remarkable public lands. The State of Utah has been clear from the get-go that its real goal in these R.S. 2477 lawsuits is to promote motorized vehicle use into the furthest, wildest corners of our state, regardless of the damage such use causes. We’ll continue to oppose those efforts.”

Often referred to as “R.S. 2477 litigation” – referencing a provision of the now-repealed 1866 Mining Act that Utah and Kane County are seeking to leverage – this case and others like it seek to establish rights-of-way across public lands and allow motorized vehicle use (or maintain such use) across them for modern day recreational access. Many of these claimed “R.S. 2477 rights-of-way” are little more than faded two-tracks, stream bottoms, and cow paths – places where motorized use often results in unacceptable environmental damage.

This particular lawsuit is referred to as a “Bellwether case” by the parties and the courts because it is intended to begin establishing legal precedent that would apply to the more than 12,000 R.S 2477 claims brought by Utah and its counties. These claims blanket many of Utah’s most important public lands, including national parks, national monuments, wilderness and wilderness study areas.

Along with SUWA, the other conservation organizations participating in this case are The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Trust. The organizations are represented by attorneys from Cooley LLP, Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar PLLC, Hoggan Lee Hutchinson, and SUWA.