What's at Stake
The county's action allowed destructive off-road vehicles to use many of these trails and streambeds, endangering the environment and exposing cultural artifacts to damage and theft. Many of these trails are remote and unmaintained, which will put ORV riders at risk.
Kane County, Utah, is home to some of our nation's most treasured public lands and wilderness. Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area lie within its boundaries. But county executives assert that scores of river corridors, cow paths, hiking trails and streambeds in Kane County are county "highways" under an 1866 federal statute known as R.S. 2477—a statute repealed by Congress in 1976.
In 2003, the county removed numerous signs that the Bureau of Land Management installed to identify routes and limit certain types of ORV use that had damaged the land. In 2005 county officials posted their own signs which indicated that other routes the BLM had closed to off-road vehicles were actually open. In August 2005, the county adopted an ordinance that would open to off-road vehicle use scores of trails to off-road vehicle use on lands where such use is prohibited under federal rules, including hiking trails and stream beds inside Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, routes within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and trails and stream beds closed to off-road vehicle use in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
This action allows destructive off-road vehicles (ORV) to use many of these trails and streambeds, endangering the environment and exposing cultural artifacts to damage and theft. Many of these trails are remote and unmaintained, which will put ORV riders at risk.
In October 2005, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society to protect these important public lands for all Americans. In September 2009, the Tenth Court of Appeal rejected the county's attempt to take the law into its own hands, reasoning that the county's actions violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In September 2009, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Utah county may not override federal rules meant to protect wildlife, streams, archeological sites, wilderness and monuments by relying on unproven highway rights of way.