Court Rejects Nevada County’s Meritless Road Claim After Nearly Two Decades Of Litigation

South Canyon Road remains in public hands


Michael Freeman, Earthjustice, (720) 989-6896


Alison Flint, The Wilderness Society, (303) 802-1404


Shelley Silbert, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, (970) 385-9677

Earlier this week a federal district court issued a final decision in a nearly two-decades-old legal case over a right-of-way claim by Elko County, Nevada to a road that traverses a sensitive river canyon near the border of the Jarbidge Wilderness Area in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

In an August 2016 decision, the same court ruled that Elko had not provided sufficient historical evidence to prove its claim under a statute known as R.S. 2477 or to justify a 2001 settlement agreement between the county and the United States that recognized the claimed right-of-way. This week’s decision resolves the remaining claims in the case by rejecting Elko’s legal claim over the road and ruling in favor of The Wilderness Society and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, who were represented by Earthjustice in the case.

The ruling does not impact current public access to the road—the majority of which has been open to high-clearance motor vehicles since 2005—and it does not address other access claims in other parts of Nevada.

The following statement is from Alison Flint, counsel & planning specialist with The Wilderness Society:
“The court rightly found that Elko County failed to prove it owns a right-of-way over a Forest Service road commonly known as the South Canyon Road. While the ruling is limited to technical legal issues related to the requirements for obtaining and recognizing a right-of way under R.S. 2477 and to the particular facts of Elko’s claim to the South Canyon Road, it stands for the important proposition that the United States cannot give away our public lands by recognizing a meritless right-of-way claim through a settlement agreement.

Keeping the South Canyon Road in public hands is important to the future of managing this sensitive forest region. Under this ruling, the Forest Service can keep a majority of the South Canyon Road open to high-clearance motor vehicles, as it has been for the past twelve years.”

The following statement is from Michael Freeman, staff attorney with Earthjustice:
“For nearly two decades, Elko County has tried to claim ownership of a road that belongs to the American public. The court rightly rejected that claim in 2016, and again in its decision this week. We hope this ruling will finally bring this long-running case to an end.”

The following statement is from Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness:
“By rejecting the illegal 2001 settlement agreement and Elko’s meritless claim to the road, the court’s ruling preserves the Forest Service’s ability to manage and protect the sensitive natural resources of the South Canyon, such as habitat for the threatened bull trout, into the future, while maintaining reasonable motorized access to some of Nevada’s prime wildlands.”

Jarbidge Wilderness, in Nevada.
Jarbidge Wilderness, in Nevada. (Jeremy Michael / CC BY 2.0)

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.