It’s also 66 feet wide, with attendant “accoutrements” such as drainage ditches and culverts, facilities, cuts, slopes, water bars, drainage runouts, and fill areas.

At least that’s how the State of Utah and 22 of its counties envision the 14,445 RS 2477 claims—over 36,000 miles in length—they are trying to wrest from the federal government in litigation filed last May.  The reality is, the vast majority of the RS 2477 “highways” are actually primitive and remote dirt trails, created (if you could call it that) by use alone.  One example would be a trail left by a lone and now-forgotten prospector who might have dragged some heavy equipment across the desert decades ago in search of the next big mother lode.

We reported earlier that the state and its county partners filed 22 suits in May 2012 that kicked off the most massive litigation attack on public lands in the history of the state (see summer 2012 issue, p. 12).  Attorneys representing the state spent much of the summer refining their claims and in September filed another round of amended complaints—this time officially serving the federal government—which brought the cases to life.

Our review of the amended lawsuits shows some change, but not a lot.  The lawsuits still include thousands of RS 2477 claims in national parks, wilderness study areas, areas proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, and even on the relatively few BLM lands actually designated as wilderness—protections that county officials signed off on (making us wonder: can we trust these guys to stand by their wilderness deals?).  The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is riddled with faint, unused routes now alleged to be “highways” under RS 2477.

What does the future hold?  Litigating this many claims is clearly not humanly possible.  Attorneys for the state, counties and federal government are now in the process of negotiating an agreement to pare the litigation into bite-sized pieces, the only sensible approach.  The problem is that these are critical decisions—which cases will get priority hearings, and which cases might be settled, for example—and our interests are not represented at the table.

We have begun filing a series of motions to intervene in all these cases and, while our arguments are strong, the court has yet to rule.

The bottom line is that, like the freakish zombies who refuse to die, RS 2477 will be with us for some time to come.  But we and our partners in the conservation community are undeterred.  The zombie is always vanquished in the end, although not before a long (and costly) fight.

—Heidi McIntosh

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Autumn-Winter 2012 issue)