Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by Professor Hillary Hoffmann and student Sara Imperiale and posted on www.vermontlaw.edu. Their topic was rated No. 7 on the Vermont Law Environmental Watch List for 2013. Click here to read the entire article.
Western states are watching Utah’s 2012 land grab under an obscure statute allowing states to claim about 25,000 “ghost roads” on federal land. If federal courts validate a fraction of these claims, watch for many more threats to the environmental integrity of national parks, wilderness study areas, national monuments and other federal reserves.
In 2012, state and local challenges to various federally protected wild lands reached an all-time high, thanks to Revised Statute 2477 (R.S. 2477), an obscure provision of the Mining Act that allows state and local governments to lay claim to ghost roads on federal land.
Why pay attention to litigation over ghost roads?
Because these “roads,” some of which do not exist and most of which do not even resemble hiking trails, let alone faint two-track jeep trails, crisscross some of our nation’s most treasured national preserves — Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Death Valley National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Active use of these claimed roads would threaten cultural sites such as Hovenweep National Monument, one of the only preserved links to the ancient Anasazi civilization in the American southwest. In brief, R.S. 2477 claims may impact millions of acres of federal public lands across Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming — states that contain many priceless natural and cultural resources.