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Environmental Protection and Common Sense v. Principle

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View Ted Zukoski's blog posts
20 August 2008, 6:00 AM

Death Valley protected from attempt to use old, repealed law to put dirt bikes in National Park wilderness

I have spent most of my working life for the past five years trying to stop old cow paths and jeep trails from becoming two-lane highways through national parks, wilderness, and other protected areas of federal land. Last week, we stopped one county from turning obscure paths through designated wilderness in Death Valley National Park from becoming playgrounds for dirt-bikes, all-terrain vehicles and other “off-highway vehicles.”

The law at stake in Death Valley – and over hundreds of millions of acres across the West – is a repealed, 19th Century loophole known as RS 2477 to claim old paths are “highways” that the federal government can never close. The law did allow for rights-of-way for the construction of highways across federal public lands prior to 1976, as long as the land wasn’t set aside for some other use, like a national forest, national monument or national park.  The law, adopted in 1866, was meant to safeguard investments in infrastructure over the wide-open West when there was such a thing.

Over the last few decades, however, some extremist counties have viewed RS 2477 not as a shield to protect legitimate transportation needs but as a sword to defeat protections for wilderness, wildlife, and water quality on federal lands.

For example, Kane County, Utah, ripped out federal closure signs and placed its own signs opening routes to off-road vehicles in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They did this on routes federal land managers had closed to protect the Monument from damage from off-road vehicles. And the county had never bothered to prove that the routes met the standards for R.S. 2477 rights-of-way.

In Death Valley, Inyo County claimed four routes as highways. Three of them were routes that the county never maintained, as far as anyone can tell. These three are all within areas that the federal government found had no roads at all in 1979, and that Congress designated as wilderness in 1994. One of the three routes drops over a huge cliff. In short, these alleged “highways” are hardly the life-blood of travel or commerce in the county.

So why is Inyo County spending its precious staff time and effort trying to pry open roads through the largest national park in the lower 48? They say it’s a matter of “principle." The federal government shouldn’t close “our roads,” they say. Never mind that the county has no real need for the “roads,” that it would cost the county money to maintain the “roads” that few have ever used, or that opening the “roads” will harm habitat for threatened desert tortoise, bighorn sheep and other wildlife, or that opening the “roads” to dirt-bikes and ATVs may lead to damaging illegal use off the “road.” It’s the principle of thing – once a road, always a road.

Principle lost out to law this time. Under the law, counties must still prove their claims in federal court if they want to challenge federal ownership. Congress provided only one way to do that: through something called the federal Quiet Title Act. And that law has a 12-year statute of limitations. That means that if federal land managers have put the county on notice more than 12 years that they didn't think a highway existed - for example, by protecting the area for its wilderness character - then the county can't waltz in later and say "that's our highway." The federal court in this case ruled Inyo County had waited too long.

This was a good one to win in court. When common sense gets counties to value their natural surrounding instead of using a 140-year-old law to turn old trails into dirt-bike race tracks, then we’ll REALLY be making some progress.

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Environmental Protect
Finally, human beings realize the importance of the environmental protection. But our planet is one the edge of being destroyed. It is said that when British set the colony in Sri Lanka, our ancestors cut down millions of thousands trees there and turn the forest into the tea farm. Also out ancestors hunted the elephants there just for fun and this entertainment reduced the numbers of elephants from 3 million to about 3 thousand. In one period, they ruined two things. And no to mention other activities which are entitled to be for the developing of technology but actually ruin the environment.
Fortunately, human beings wake up early and do something now for the earth before we turn it to be a desert or a big sand ball in the universal. People now pay much attention on the environmental topic and some designers are the pioneers. They attach the environmental ideas into their works. In the stumbleupon website we could see so many designs from furniture to jewelers. We could see the bookshelf in the tree shape there and the plant shape or plant like decorations. But the most creative design in my opinion is the growing series. In this series, they have the growing chairs, growing rings and so on. They just insert the earth into the ring or put the chair on the earth, and plant grass in them. After several days, you will have grasses on your rings or your slippers. These things are simple and natural. Maybe next time when we have the concert for environmental topic, we could have the growing rubber wristbands. It just needs us to make a slight change in the structure of these decorations and could have great influence then.
Maybe 5 or 10 years later, everyone will have at least one piece of these growing designs. And the new couples will give each other the growing rings and make the promise in this way, “Our love will last as long as the plant.” And they should choose the evergreen seed instead of the grass seed. If that day came, we human beings will no longer be worry about the environmental problems.

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