Someone on our side, and with some reason here.
One of the most important issues of our time is protecting recreational access to the vast public lands in the West granted by Congress pursuant to section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866, commonly referred to as RS 2477.
Last month, Rep. Stevan Pearce (R-NM) introduced legislation (HR 6298) that would set into law a key federal court decision that state law determines the validity of RS 2477 rights-of-way across public lands.
Since 1976, RS 2477 rights of ways have been subjected to numerous Interior Department interpretations and policies which change with virtually each Interior Secretary. In recent years, RS 2477 rights of ways have been subject to increasing challenge by extreme environmental groups.
In September 2005, the 10th US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dealt the anti-access crowd a stunning blow by reversing a Federal District Court decision relating to 17 rights of ways in three counties in Utah. The well-reasoned 10th Circuit decision restores county rights to these access routes, and the court correctly recognizes state law as the basis for determining the legitimacy of any RS 2477 road claims. The legislation offered by Representative Pearce follows the direction set down by the Court of Appeals
Because Pearce's legislation was offered at the end of this session of Congress, HR 6298 will probably not move this year. Pearce, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on National Parks, cautioned supporters not to expect immediate victory. "Supporters of this legislation should keep in mind that the bill I am introducing today is not the conclusive end to this controversy," he said. "Today's introduction marks the start of a dialogue that I hope leads to a comprehensive solution and eventually a victory for all the stakeholders."
Let's hope so. The anti-access groups reacted predictably, saying they oppose any legislation based upon the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. These anti-access attorneys are not likely to concede the fight. Indeed, the Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that Heidi McIntosh, lead attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has declared "trench warfare" between her group and any county determined to defend the public's rights of access.
Some in Congress realize that the anti-access groups' brand of "trench warfare" gives the advantage to well-funded green groups and disadvantages rural communities and the American people. It is hoped that Pearce's legislation will build on the 10th Circuit Court's findings and will clarify, if not reduce, the role of the courts.
In many areas, RS 2477 routes play a significant role in recreational access. The introduction of this legislation begins a long overdue dialogue in Congress on how best to deal with the controversy over public access rights.