On July 29th, SUWA achieved an important legal win in our fight against the state of Utah and many of its counties’ long-running attempt to gain control over thousands of miles of public lands through use of an arcane law known as Revised Statute (RS) 2477.
Our lawsuit challenged the BLM’s decision to allow Kane County to install an industrial steel and concrete bridge over the Bull Valley Gorge on the Skutumpah Road. The bridge is within the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and at the threshold of the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area. Despite the wilderness character of the surrounding lands, the BLM argued that because the Skutumpah Road was previously declared an RS 2477 right-of-way by a federal court, the agency did not have any legal authority to regulate the bridge or analyze the impacts to the surrounding lands.
The judge agreed with SUWA and found that the BLM’s decision violated the agency’s land management duties under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The road to resolving RS 2477 claims in Utah has been slow and tortuous to say the least, but victories like this help shape the future of wilderness-quality lands throughout Utah.
What Is RS 2477?
An obscure legal provision, Revised Statued (RS) 2477 was passed in 1866 as part of the Mining Act and granted “highway” rights-of-way across public lands. Although the statute was repealed by Congress in 1976, Utah’s politicians seized on it in the 1990s and early 2000s as a means of preventing wilderness designation and asserting local control over federal public lands. In 2012, the Utah attorney general filed lawsuits in federal district court claiming roughly 14,000 RS 2477 rights-of-way across 22 counties.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Autumn/Winter 2021 issue)