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This is very bad news. Western land users and counties have been using this statute to keep roads and trails open.

(RS 2477 rights-of-way are property rights originally granted by the federal government to establish the transportation network essential to settlement
of the western frontier. Generally, these rights-of-way grants were made to local governments and are held in trust by them for the public. Today, they continue to provide virtually all the public access to and across the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands in the West and Alaska.)

See article below.

Matt
Doo owner
Manta owner
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Judge clears way to ban roads across more lands

By Tom Kenworthy, USA TODAY

Conservationists are hailing a decision by a Utah federal judge that sharply limits the ability of local officials in the West to claim jurisdiction over trails across federal land.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell could boost efforts to set aside more sensitive federal lands as wilderness, a designation that bans roads and other development.

Campbell's ruling Monday reduces the authority of local officials to claim rights of way over trails on federal land under an obscure 19th century law.

In recent years, local officials in Utah and other Western states have claimed jurisdiction over such trails to preserve access and, environmentalists charge, to disqualify areas from being designated wilderness. Lands with roads are ineligible for wilderness status.

"It's a landmark decision," said Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. She noted that local officials have asserted claims over thousands of obscure trails and tracks in Utah. "It makes sure we will be able to protect wilderness areas, parks and wildlife."

Bill Redd, a member of the San Juan County, Utah, board of commissioners, called the decision "a bump in the road" that, "barring bankruptcy or death, will be appealed." The board was a defendant in the lawsuit brought by environmental groups.

At issue is part of an 1866 mining law that granted rights of way to states for highway construction across federal lands "not reserved for public uses": areas such as national forests or parks.

The law has become the focal point of an increasingly vehement campaign by local officials and off-road vehicle enthusiasts who want greater vehicular access to public lands in the West.

Campbell's ruling upholds a decision by the federal Bureau of Land Management that rights of way are valid only if the trails were mechanically constructed and not established by "haphazard, unintentional or incomplete actions." The judge also upheld the bureau's definition of a highway as a road that is "public in nature."

Officials in Utah and elsewhere in the West frequently have argued that any track constructed by "continued use," even if by horses or foot traffic, is subject to a right-of-way claim. At times they have asserted those claims by using bulldozers to improve trails on lands including national parks.

Disputes over roads and trails have heightened tensions in recent years between local residents and federal land managers in the West. One such feud climaxed in July 2000 when hundreds of men risked arrest for trespassing on federal land by removing a huge boulder that the Forest Service had used to block a popular trail inside Humboldt National Forest in northern Nevada. Utah has millions of acres being managed as potential wilderness until Congress decides which areas to protect and which to allow to be developed.

Officials in the Interior Department are negotiating with Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to settle right-of-way claims, and it is unclear how the decision may affect those talks. But Robert Wiygul, an attorney with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, said the ruling will make it harder for the Bush administration to cede rights of way to the states.


 
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