News / Utah / 
Photo of Salt Creek road in San Juan County, which is
at the center of the dispute between local government and the feds.
Utah State and San Juan County are claiming rights to the road
under RS2477, a Civil War-era statue concerning the creation of
public roadways. Photo provided by San Juan County

Provided by San Juan County

Utah, Kane County suffer Supreme Court defeat in controversial roads case

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News | Posted - Jan. 25, 2021 at 4:56 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against taking up an appeal by the state of Utah and Kane County over whether two environmental organizations have the right to intervene in a controversial roads case.

The state of Utah and Kane County had fought a 2019 decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that agreed the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Wilderness Society had a right to plead their case over so-called RS2477 roads carved out in the Civil War era to develop a transportation system in the West.

"We're pleased the Supreme Court denied these petitions and look forward to vigorously defending our members and the United States' interests in the wildest, most remote corners of southern Utah," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "The state's litigation, claiming highways in stream bottoms and cow paths, has always been about who controls federal public lands in Utah, with the goal to riddle these landscapes with roads and make them ineligible for congressional wilderness designation. This absolutely cuts to the core of our mission."

Multiple counties and states across the West have filed right-of-way claims on thousands of these roads, asserting they have been an integral and vital part of ranching, mining and residents' access as part of a remote transportation network that needs to remain in place to foster movement of both people and animals.

Claims to the roads have been entangled in litigation for years and in this latest case, both Kane County and the state of Utah argued unsuccessfully that the conservation groups had no place to intervene.

But Phil Hanceford, conservation director at the Wilderness Society, said the court rightly recognized the environmental groups' rights to have a voice in the case.

"Today's decision not to review our participation in this important case recognized that our input is valuable when decisions are made about the impacts development could have on our shared public lands," Hanceford said.

"There are appropriate places for roads, but cutting through Utah's spectacular red rock wildlands and creek beds are not those places."

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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