Utah to file lawsuits for over 18,000 R.S. 2477 claims and seize federal public lands to boot

“The right of way for the construction of highways across public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”

Little did Congress know when it enacted this innocuous-sounding law in 1866 that it would wreak havoc on the nation’s public lands 145 years later, threatening the future of the very same scenic lands that Congress later sought to protect in national parks, national monuments, wilderness and wilderness study areas, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other fragile public lands.  They strike at the heart of places that have been protected for years, like Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, dozens of wilderness study areas, and they spread like a web of red tendrils across the entire redrock wilderness.

There are even R.S. 2477 claims in the Cedar Mountains Wilderness, signed by President Bush in 2006 and in the wilderness areas designated in the Washington County lands bill, enacted in 2009.  Clearly, Utah politicians who crowed about the passage of these bills only to slice them apart later with dozens of “highways” cannot be trusted to negotiate true wilderness bills in the future.  We can see that now, and so can everyone else.

Today, R.S. 2477 has become the most serious threat to the future of Utah’s remaining wild lands, designated wilderness, national parks and national monuments in decades.

We’re now staring down the barrel of a massive lawsuit, to be filed no later than June 14th of this year.  That suit will allege more than 18,000 R.S. 2477 highways across Utah.  More than 16,000 of those claimed highways are the so-called Class D routes which have never been maintained or constructed and they are not the result of an intelligent assessment of the state’s legitimate transportation needs. These claims are on the state’s map now because some off-roader, long-forgotten prospector, oil and gas operator with a seismic truck, or anonymous wanderer once followed a whim and took off cross-country, destination unknown.

The truth — It’s all about a few very loud, Utah politicians trying to seize control over someone else’s land – ours – and to try to make a fast buck by selling to friends in the oil, gas and mining industries.

This is crystal clear when viewed in the context of what the Utah legislature has been up to this year.   In most years, the Utah legislature is far out on the fringe, but this year Republican politicians vying for higher office have been an utter embarrassment to the state, proposing nonsense bills that their own lawyers say are unconstitutional.  These include bills that would allow the state to tax federal public lands and eventually turn over lands owned by every American to the State of Utah – which can’t even manage to keep their own small state parks system fully operational.

And the state is willing to spend millions to litigate the ownership of these routes.  What an embarrassment.

We’ll planning a full court press on this issue, including gearing up for litigation.

What can you do? Voice your outrage over the legislature’s and Governor Gary Herbert’s scheme to undermine protection for federal public lands and spread a web of roads and ORV trails across the redrock wilderness.

  • Write a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:  e-mail to letters@sltrib.com (no attachments), fax to 801-257-8950, or mail it to Public Forum, The Salt Lake Tribune
    90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101.
  • Call Gary Herbert and tell him to cut ties with the fringe element at the legislature that’s wasting millions of dollars on unconstitutional and just plain crazy bills. His number is 801.538.1000.  Light up those phones!

We’ll stop this, but we need your help to battle one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced yet.  And thanks for all you’ve already done for Utah’s wilderness.

Heidi McIntosh