On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of protecting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from unchecked off-road vehicle use. This decision represents a huge victory for the 1.8 million acre monument that has been tied up in the courts for years. The trouble began in 2005 when Kane County in Utah decided to assert itself and its citizens' God-given right to take their ATVs anywhere they choose by dredging up an archaic law known as R.S. 2477. The Civil War-era law was designed to encourage settlement in the West by developing a system of highways. It was repealed in 1976, but the repeal was subject to one very big loophole: "valid existing rights." Many R.S. 2477 road claims were never recorded so some apply this term very liberally in an attempt to claim ancient donkey paths as public right-of-ways.
So how did Kane County choose to claim its right-of-ways across the Grand Staircase-Escalante? Why, by doing what any law-abiding county should do. It removed federal signs prohibiting vehicle access while simultaneously putting up hundreds of its own signs that illegally opened areas of the monument to off-road vehicles. They defended this action by claiming hundreds of seldom-used jeep tracks and canyon bottoms were "highways." This was in 2005. Naturally, a group of environmental organizations sued and the U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins dismissed the counties' case (Garfield County joined with Kane County in the suit). Monday's appeals court decision affirmed that judgment.
Earthjustice represented the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Read Earthjustice's press release here.