The RS2477 Threat

Lands at Risk

Threats to
Private Property



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After a nearly decade-long campaign by conservation groups, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the National Park Service closed Salt Creek inside Canyonlands National Park to motor vehicles by regulation in June 2004. San Juan County and the State of Utah have claimed the Creek as a "constructed highway" under RS 2477. If their claim is recognized, it would degrade what the Park Service calls "the most extensive perennial water source and riparian ecosystem in Canyonlands National Park, other than the Green and Colorado Rivers" as well as "the heart of the Salt Creek Archeological District, the area with the highest recorded density of archeological sites in the Park." The public can still access these wonders by less damaging foot and horse travel. Read the Park Service's rule and learn more about the Park.

See the Creek

See a photo of the Salt Creek ‘highway’ and other bogus claims.

NOTE: Before and after photos showing the route after the route was temporarily closed in 1998 can be viewed at pages 138 and 139 of the NPS environmental analysis.

Although it has since been removed, there was a photo posted on the Boston University website showing a vehicle using the "road" that is Salt Creek.

County and Utah Sue to Turn Creek into a Highway

Despite Salt Creek's incredible values, San Juan County thinks the Creek is a “constructed highway,” and that vegetation and archeological resources there should be destroyed so that jeeps can drive through the Creek. The county has sued to take control of the creek as an RS 2477 right-of-way. Read a June 17, 2004 Salt Lake Tribune story and a June 19, 2004, LA Times story. Read San Juan's complaint. Not to be outdone, the State of Utah has threatened to file their own suit, attacking as "intolerable" the Park Service's actions to protect Canyonlands' natural values and vowing to use and maintain the route without Park Service approval. See the state's July 16 notice of intent to sue.

The Park Service itself concluded in 2002 that the alleged “constructed highway” did NOT meet the standard of a valid right-of-way under RS 2477. The Park Service began a draft report, but never finalized it.

The National Park Service is trying to keep conservation groups out of San Juan County's lawsuit. Taken to its logical end, the NPS argument could make it difficult for conservationists to challenge a Park Service decision to give away rights-of-way across the entire U.S. through a similar "Quiet Title" lawsuit. Read the agency's September 3, 2004 brief. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah denied conservation groups attempt to intervene in the case in October 2004, but conservationists immediately appealed the ruling to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. That case is now being briefed. Read the opening brief of conservation groups, filed in December, 2004.

April 2005 - the State of Utah formally joins San Juan County's suit seeking to turn the Creek into a highway.  Read the state's complaint, which asks the court to permit the state to "maintain" the "highway," including the right to put in culverts and other "improvements.

August 30, 2005 -- in a major victory for conservationists, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those who work to protect public lands can have a seat at the table in court. Read the court's ruling.

February 2006 - the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees to calls from the Park Service and San Juan County to have the entire court rehear the decision that awarded SUWA intervention.  Briefing on the issue was completed in June 2006; the argument will occur the last week of September 2006.

Conservationists, Media, and Off-Roaders Respond

The National Parks Conservation Association found RS 2477 claims--including the claim at Salt Creek--to constitute a major threat to Canyonlands National Park in a report the group prepared on the health of that park. It posted a press release and report at its website on September 9, 2004. Read a  September 10, 2004, Deseret News article on NPCA's report.

Read an editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune, July 2, 2005, criticizing Governor Jon Huntsman for siding with forces seeking to gain state ownership over federal rights-of-way including Salt Creek.

June 2006 -- The Blue Ribbon Coalition, mouthpiece of the off-road industry and users, boo-hoos the closure of Salt Creek in a commentary and an article in its magazine.

2007: The Court Decides

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled October 3, 2007 that the public is allowed at the table when decisions about public lands are made. Read an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Above: a 4-wheel drive vehicle on the alleged "constructed highway" within Salt Creek, Canyonlands National Park. Photo courtesy Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

View a hiker's slide show of Salt Creek.

Above (and below): Salt Creek (and the alleged "highway")  in the fall of 2005, after the route had been closed to vehicle use for seven years.

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