The RS2477 Threat

Lands at Risk

Threats to
Private Property



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The politicians who run Kane and Garfield counties are trying to take management of federal lands-national parks, monuments, recreation areas, wildernesses, and potential wildernesses-into their own hands. Their particular aim is to open closed cowpaths, rough jeep trails, even streambeds to various kinds of off-road vehicles.

1999:  The Monument Closes Routes to Protect Resources.

Our story starts with the 1996 creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, half of which lies in Kane County.  In 1999, the BLM issued a plan for the Monument that closed the area to general off-road driving, and adopted a compromise that left nearly 1,000 miles of routes open to vehicles.  The State of Utah did not object to the plan.

2003:  County “Scofflaws” Remove Signs that Limit Vehicle Use.

After the Bureau of Land Management posted as 'closed' some trails inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kane County Commissioners pulled out the signs. Why? Because the County Commissioners have proposed the dirt tracks as 'highways' under RS 2477. Read the August 20, 2003, Salt Lake Tribune article.

Read an August 21, 2003, Salt Lake Tribune editorial that says the counties are "acting like scofflaws" for ripping down signs posting routes as closed to motor vehicles.

Read a January 19, 2004, article about how some county officials have hired pricey criminal defense attorneys to defend themselves for ripping down signs limiting off-road vehicle access in the Grand Staircase.

Spring-Summer 2005:  County Signs Open Routes in the Monument, BLM Sits on Its Hands

Not content with ripping down BLM's signs closing routes to damaging off-road vehicle travel, Kane County is now putting up its own signs claiming routes are open to such use. Read a Salt Lake Tribune story from March 19, 2005 describing the potential impact on wilderness study areas. Read an op-ed from long-time Kane County residents decrying the move. And peruse a Tribune editorial of May 3, 2000, scolding the county for "petulantly pounding the table."

After sitting on its hands for nearly two years, BLM notified Kane County on April 26, 2005, that it had finally had enough, and that the county must remove illegally posted county road signs encouraging illegal use of trails on sensitive lands. See the letter of Utah BLM State Director Sally Wisely  and read the April 27, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune story about it. Read an account from the Southern Utah News for May 4, 2005.

Meanwhile, on May 11, 2005, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a story with a headline that suggested that Kane County may be ready to settle the dispute in court. The story itself  was less sanguine.

BLM's reluctance to protect public lands and hold Kane County accountable for its illegal actions continues. See a June 2, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune article in which BLM agrees to try to work things out with the Kane County scofflaws rather than enforce the law.

Senator Richard Durbin (D.-Illinois) issued a letter on May 26, 2005. calling for the Interior Department to get off the dime and protect public lands in Kane County. Read the letter, a Salt Lake Tribune report and a Deseret News story.

The Bureau of Land Management answered Senator Durbin on June 13, 2005, saying the matter was in the hands of the US attorney. Read the letter.

On June 30 the Interior Department asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to take legal action against Kane County for defiantly posting signs inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and tearing down signs closing roads on federal land.

And on Independence Day, 2005, the Salt Lake Tribune called on the U.S. Attorney, Paul Warner, to stop stalling and pursue legal action against Kane County.

Kane County residents Jana and Ron Smith explain that not everyone in southern Utah thinks random two tracks to nowhere in the desert should be County highways.

Summer 2005: Kane County Keeps on Going, Opens Routes in National Parks to Dirt Bikes and All-Terrain Vehicles.

Kane County on August 31 adopted an ordinance that designated every class B and D “road” within the county’s borders open to off-highway vehicles despite letters of protest from managers of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area . The Southern Utah News reported it this way. The county’s road system includes hiking trails and washes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Here is the county’s “road map” for turning parks into dirt bike racing areas.

Fall 2005:  Lawsuits and a Determined Senator

The sign capers provoked the ire of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who wrote to the Justice Department in May demanding that it take action against the county. Justice wrote back October 18 saying that they had investigated and were awaiting further instruction from on high. Durbin thereupon wrote to Secretary Norton on November 1 demanding action. A Norton assistant, Chad Calvert, wrote back on November 8, asserting that the Tenth Circuit’s recent decision changed everything. (This decision provided an opportunity for Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw to gloat in the Trib and in the Southern Utah News that the battle was over). The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about the "feud" on November 15.  Twenty-six environmental organizations fired off their own letter to Secretary Norton on November 16.

On October 13, environmental groups fought back with a lawsuit seeking to force the Interior Department to bring the counties in line. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance issued a release, as did The Wilderness Society. TWS provided background, and some shocking photos. The story was big news in the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, and Provo Herald. On November 8, the Trib reported that Kane and Garfield counties were preparing their own suit.

After years of bluster, on November 14, the Kane County, joined by its northern neighbor Garfield County, filed its own suit against BLM, challenging the management plan for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for closing a number of cow tracks and other routes to dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles. 

The Salt Lake Tribune, meanwhile, ran a long, detailed article on the Kane County matter on November 21, 2005, accompanied by a fairly flattering profile of Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw.

On Wednesday, November 16, Secretary Norton met with Senator Durbin and assured him that the department was committed to settling matters with Kane and Garfield Counties. To that end, the BLM and the counties are to begin "consultation" on November 30. Conservation groups worry that the public will be effectively cut out of the process, and that a decision that may upend the carefully-crafted Monument management plan shouldn't be undone in what looks to be largely a back-room deal between Norton and Kane County. Read Secretary Norton's letter to Senator Durbin, plus reports in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.

The New York Times reports on the Kane County mess, November 24, 2005.

And at the end of November, officials from the county and the Interior Department met to hash out the dispute over "road" signs in the monument. Read the Salt Lake Tribune story.

On December 7, 2005, Sky Cheney  "and a group of concerned citizens" published a guest editorial in the Southern Utah News saying that they support none of the Kane County claims and seeking an accounting of the amount of money the commissioners have spent on their "mad claims."

The Salt Lake Tribune got wind of the rebellion by Cheney and her allies, calling it the "Kane mutiny," in an article published December 14, 2005.

Winter 2005-2006: Feds Tell Counties -- Let's Make a Deal

The New York Times reports on the Kane County mess, November 24, 2005.

The Trib reports on December 21 that Kane County and the BLM have reached agreement on the dispute: the county will take down its signs and BLM will speed up the process of granting the rights of way the county seeks in the monument. The deal was reached in secret without public participation.

On December 20, 2005, Heidi McIntosh of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance wrote a long letter (on behalf of herself, Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society, and Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice) to the Interior Solicitor outlining reasons why the department should not strike a deal with Kane County before the county's RS 2477 claims have been adjudicated and urging that the process include the public from the beginning.

On December 27, 2005, the Salt Lake Tribune chimed in with an editorial calling for a more open, public process.

On January 8, 2006, three Kane County commissioners appeared in the Trib's letters section to assure readers that public comment would be taken into account in their negotiations with the BLM and that both licensed and unlicensed off-roading was good for everyone. This was followed the next day by a letter from Heidi McIntosh of SUWA, who accused Kane County of a blatant land grab.

On February 15, 2006, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that 20 of the illegal signs Kane County had erected along the Hole-in-the-Rock dirt road within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had been stolen. The county is offering a $1,000 reward for return of the signs and apprehension of the thief.

Spring-Summer 2006:  Orders from the Courts?

Kane County, in a bid to escape court oversight of its illegal ordinance and sign posting, asked US District Court Judge Tena Campbell to toss The Wilderness Society's case against the county.  A May hearing was covered by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Associated Press.  Judge Campbell said she'd likely rule on the matter in July

Late 2006: Court Ruling Results in Some County Backtracking 

Judge Campbell ruled against the County in August 2006, finding that The Wilderness Society's case could go forward. In a key finding, she determined that counties can't simply manage roads contrary to the federal government unless and until they prove ownership of a route, which the county has never bothered to do.  Faced with this ruling, Kane County first appealed, and then decided in December to rescind its challenged ordinance, while leaving up road signs that invite vehicle use.  Kane County's December 12 statement on withdrawal of the resolution, reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, makes clear that the county will try to pass a law that will put the State of Utah on the hook for future lawsuits. Read a December 19, 2006, Salt Lake Tribune editorial, calling the county's strategy "conniving."

Summer 2007: Court says counties have to prove their claims

In a victory for our wild places, Judge Jenkins ordered in June 2007 that Utah's counties claimed their rights-of-way preemptively and that the law says they have to prove them one, single road at a time. Read Earthjustice's press release about the decision. Also, Read the Salt Lake Tribune's report of the victory.  Check out a July 5, 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the ruling, "should put a long-overdue stop to unfettered expansion."  Check out the Land Letter's July 12, 2007 article about the decision.

But Kane and Garfield Counties announced they will appeal the ruling.  Read a July 11, 2007 article about the counties' decision.

September 2007: BLM lets Kane County claim road as its own

For the first time after a decade-long dispute, the BLM gave Kane county the right-of-way to a nine-mile road crossing federal land, granting the county's R.S. 2477 claim.   Read a Land Letter article. Read more in High Country News.

Conservation groups working to protect fragile public lands are challenging BLM's decision and demanding that Kane County's illegal road signs be removed.  Read a September 25, 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

October 2007: Judge refuses to throw out lawsuit

Conservation groups are allowed to stay on the case to protect the Monument from illegal road signs. On October 17, 2007, Judge Tena Campbell denied Kane County's motion to force the groups out of the case. Read more.

NOTE: BLM extended its comment period on its finding that Bald Knoll Road is a valid R.S. 2477 Claim.  Read the press release.


The photos below are all of routes claimed by Kane County as "constructed" highways. The photographs were provided by the Bureau of Land Management as a result of requests placed under the Freedom of Information Act.


Sign K7230.


Sign K7300.


Kane County sign K7510.


Kane County sign K8450.


Paria River, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT.  This is one of the 'Class D routes' claimed as open for ORV travel under Kane County's OHV ordinance. SUWA.


Kane County sign K9275.





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