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Utah's First Attempt to Use New Highway Loophole Defeated

On April 9, 2003, Utah's then Governor Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, signed a deal to make it easier for the State to claim jurisdiction over old trails and cow paths on Utah's spectacular wildlands using R.S. 2477. Anti-wilderness interests in the west have seized upon the repealed Westward Expansion law in an effort to make it more difficult to protect wild areas from off-road vehicle use and to eventually designate them as wilderness.

Utah's first effort to take advantage of the Norton-Leavitt deal involved the Weiss Highway. Earthjustice and The Wilderness Society (TWS), working with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and the Wild Utah Project (WUP), discovered, however, that the highway route was built exclusively by federal crews through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and not by pioneering settlers as the State claimed. Earthjustice and TWS also discovered that the Utah County sold the right-of-way to the United States for one dollar. This embarrassing evidence led the State to withdraw its claim for the Weiss Highway in September 2004.

The State filed six new applications to alleged highways under the Norton-Leavitt deal in late 2004. Earthjustice, TWS, SUWA and WUP filed lengthy comments challenging those applications as well. The Department of Interior has yet to rule on the applications.