A federal appeals court judge has partially undone a lower court ruling that gave the state of Utah and Kane County rights to 12 of the 16 roads it sued the federal government to win control over.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday the state and county only have legal title to six of those 12 claims. It’s a small victory for conservationists and the federal government who want the routes to remain under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. The judges held that because there is no title dispute over the remaining six roads which are already open to some motorized use, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the claims.
Tony Rampton leads the Utah Attorney General’s office public lands division. He says that makes the ruling somewhat ambiguous.
“We’re going to go back to the 10th circuit and ask the court to review this decision in hopes of clarifying what they mean when they say there is no dispute as to title because frankly we need to know who owns the road,” Rampton says.
Steve Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Allliance says the ruling means of the states 12 or so thousand road claims named in the states 2012 lawsuit, the majority will likely not be heard in court and will remain in BLM hands. But he adds there is a downside.
“To some extent, it may incentivize these federal agencies to leave contested motorized routes in sensitive lands open to motorized use in order to avoid having to litigate,” Bloch says.
The state’s argument is based on a civil war-era law that allowed settlers to develop the west by constructing roads across public lands. Congress repealed the law in 1976, but agreed to grandfather in any roads that existed prior to that date.