Salt Lake City, Utah
Cornered by an Earthjustice lawsuit, commissioners in Kane County, Utah said this week they will back off actions that invite off-road vehicles to drive over sensitive federal lands in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Commissioners said they will repeal an ordinance inviting ORV use on dozens of closed routes, and take ORV decals off road signs they put up in monument lands.
While Earthjustice views the decision as a victory, the group remains wary of county intentions, said Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice attorney representing The Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“Our lawsuit to protect the spectacular wildlife, canyons and wildlands of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is paying off. The County is backing down,” said Zukoski, adding that “because the County continues to bluster about bogus ‘highway’ claims, we’ll remain vigilant in fighting for these lands.”
What really concerns conservationists is Kane County’s vow to duck the lawsuit and go straight to the state Legislature for new laws that might invite renewed ORV use on County claimed rights-of-way through national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas and other protected lands across Utah.
Kane County has vowed to claim rights-of-way through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument using a Civil War-era law — known as R.S. 2477 — that local agencies are turning to across the West to seize right of ways over federal lands. Although R.S. 2477 was repealed in 1976, Congress grandfathered in existing routes, which Kane County and other agencies in the West are seizing on to stake right-of-way claims. Such routes include cattle tracks, wash bottoms, creekbeds and horse paths.
Federal land managers closed routes to ORVs in the Monument in November 2000 to protect fragile wildlife habitat and archeological treasures.