COUNTIES ATTACK GRAND
STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT RESOURCE PROTECTIONS;
CONSERVATIONISTS AND US SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN FIGHT BACK
The politicians who run
Kane and Garfield counties are trying to take management of federal
lands-national parks, monuments, recreation areas, wildernesses, and
potential wildernesses-into their own hands. Their particular aim is
to open closed cowpaths, rough jeep trails, even streambeds to various
kinds of off-road vehicles.
1999: The Monument Closes Routes to Protect Resources.
Our story starts with
the 1996 creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,
half of which lies in Kane County. In 1999, the BLM issued a
plan for the Monument
that closed the area to general off-road
driving, and adopted a compromise that left nearly 1,000 miles of
routes open to vehicles. The State of Utah did not object to the
2003: County “Scofflaws” Remove Signs that Limit
After the Bureau of Land Management posted as 'closed'
some trails inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,
Kane County Commissioners pulled out the signs. Why? Because the
County Commissioners have proposed the dirt tracks as 'highways' under
Read the August 20, 2003, Salt Lake Tribune article.
Read an August 21, 2003, Salt Lake Tribune editorial
that says the
counties are "acting like scofflaws" for ripping down signs posting
routes as closed to motor vehicles.
Read a January 19, 2004, article about how some county officials
have hired pricey criminal defense attorneys to defend themselves for
ripping down signs limiting off-road vehicle access in the Grand
Spring-Summer 2005: County Signs Open Routes in
the Monument, BLM Sits on Its Hands
Not content with ripping down BLM's signs closing
routes to damaging off-road vehicle travel, Kane County is now putting
up its own signs claiming routes are open to such use.
Read a Salt Lake Tribune story from March 19, 2005 describing the
potential impact on wilderness study areas.
Read an op-ed from long-time Kane County residents decrying the
move. And peruse a
Tribune editorial of May 3, 2000, scolding the county for
"petulantly pounding the table."
After sitting on its hands for nearly two years, BLM
notified Kane County on April 26, 2005, that it had finally had
enough, and that the county must remove illegally posted county road
signs encouraging illegal use of trails on sensitive lands.
See the letter of Utah BLM State Director Sally Wisely
April 27, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune story
about it. Read
an account from the Southern Utah News for May 4, 2005.
Meanwhile, on May 11, 2005, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a
story with a headline that suggested that Kane County may be ready to
settle the dispute in court.
The story itself
was less sanguine.
BLM's reluctance to protect public lands and hold Kane
County accountable for its illegal actions continues.
See a June 2, 2005, Salt Lake Tribune article in which BLM agrees
to try to work things out with the Kane County scofflaws rather than
enforce the law.
Senator Richard Durbin (D.-Illinois) issued a letter on
May 26, 2005. calling for the Interior Department to get off the dime
and protect public lands in Kane County.
Read the letter, a
Salt Lake Tribune report and a
Deseret News story.
The Bureau of Land Management answered Senator Durbin
on June 13, 2005, saying the matter was in the hands of the US
Read the letter.
On June 30 the Interior Department asked the U.S.
Attorney's Office to take legal action against Kane County for
defiantly posting signs inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National
Monument and tearing down signs closing roads on federal land.
And on Independence Day, 2005, the
Salt Lake Tribune called on the U.S. Attorney, Paul Warner, to stop
stalling and pursue legal action against Kane County.
Kane County residents
Jana and Ron Smith explain that not everyone in southern Utah
thinks random two tracks to nowhere in the desert should be County
Summer 2005: Kane
County Keeps on Going, Opens Routes in National Parks to Dirt Bikes and
Kane County on August 31
ordinance that designated every class B and D “road” within the
county’s borders open to off-highway vehicles despite letters of
protest from managers of the
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
. The Southern Utah News
this way. The
county’s road system includes hiking trails and washes in Bryce Canyon
and Zion National Parks. Here is the county’s “road
map” for turning parks into dirt bike racing areas.
Fall 2005: Lawsuits and a Determined Senator
The sign capers provoked
the ire of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who
wrote to the Justice Department in May demanding that it take action
against the county. Justice wrote back
saying that they had investigated and were awaiting further
instruction from on high. Durbin thereupon wrote to Secretary Norton
demanding action. A Norton assistant, Chad Calvert, wrote back on
asserting that the Tenth Circuit’s
recent decision changed
everything. (This decision provided an opportunity for Kane County Commissioner
Mark Habbeshaw to
in the Trib and in the
Southern Utah News that the battle was over). The Salt Lake Tribune wrote
on November 15. Twenty-six environmental organizations
own letter to Secretary Norton on November 16.
On October 13,
environmental groups fought back with a
to force the Interior Department to bring the counties in line. The
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance issued a
release, as did
The Wilderness Society. TWS provided
background, and some shocking
photos. The story was big news in the
On November 8, the Trib
reported that Kane and Garfield counties were preparing their own
After years of bluster, on
November 14, the Kane County, joined by its northern neighbor Garfield
County, filed its own
BLM, challenging the management plan for the Grand Staircase Escalante
National Monument for closing a number of cow tracks and other routes
to dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.
The Salt Lake Tribune,
meanwhile, ran a
long, detailed article on the Kane County matter on November 21,
2005, accompanied by a
fairly flattering profile of Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw.
On Wednesday, November 16,
Secretary Norton met with Senator Durbin and assured him that the
department was committed to settling matters with Kane and Garfield
Counties. To that end, the BLM and the counties are to begin
"consultation" on November 30. Conservation groups worry that the
public will be effectively cut out of the process, and that a decision
that may upend the carefully-crafted Monument management plan
shouldn't be undone in what looks to be largely a back-room deal
between Norton and Kane County. Read
letter to Senator Durbin, plus reports in the
Salt Lake Tribune and the
The New York Times reports on the
mess, November 24, 2005.
And at the end of November,
officials from the county and the Interior Department met to hash out
the dispute over "road" signs in the monument. Read the
Salt Lake Tribune
On December 7, 2005, Sky Cheney "and a
group of concerned citizens" published a
Southern Utah News saying that they support none of the Kane County
claims and seeking an accounting of the amount of money the
commissioners have spent on their "mad claims."
Lake Tribune got wind of the rebellion by Cheney and her allies,
calling it the "Kane mutiny," in an
published December 14, 2005.
2005-2006: Feds Tell Counties -- Let's Make a Deal
The New York Times reports on the
mess, November 24, 2005.
Trib reports on December 21
that Kane County and the BLM have reached agreement on the
dispute: the county will take down its signs and BLM will speed up the
process of granting the rights of way the county seeks in the
monument. The deal was reached in secret without public participation.
On December 20, 2005, Heidi McIntosh of the Southern Utah Wilderness
Alliance wrote a
(on behalf of herself, Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society,
and Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice) to the Interior Solicitor outlining
reasons why the department should not strike a deal with Kane County
before the county's RS 2477 claims have been adjudicated and urging
that the process include the public from the beginning.
On December 27, 2005, the Salt Lake Tribune chimed in with an
calling for a more open, public process.
On January 8, 2006, three Kane County commissioners appeared in the
letters section to assure readers that public comment would be
taken into account in their negotiations with the BLM and that both
licensed and unlicensed off-roading was good for everyone. This was
followed the next day by
a letter from
Heidi McIntosh of SUWA, who accused Kane County of a blatant land
On February 15, 2006,
the Salt Lake
Tribune reported that 20 of the illegal signs Kane County had
erected along the Hole-in-the-Rock dirt road within the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument had been stolen. The county is
offering a $1,000 reward for return of the signs and apprehension of
Spring-Summer 2006: Orders from the Courts?
Kane County, in a bid
to escape court oversight of its illegal ordinance and sign posting,
asked US District Court Judge Tena Campbell to toss The Wilderness
Society's case against the county. A May hearing was covered by the
Salt Lake Tribune
Press. Judge Campbell said she'd likely rule on the matter in
Late 2006: Court
Ruling Results in Some County Backtracking
Judge Campbell ruled against the
County in August 2006, finding that The Wilderness Society's case
could go forward. In a key finding, she determined that counties can't
simply manage roads contrary to the federal government unless and
until they prove ownership of a route, which the county has never
bothered to do. Faced with this ruling, Kane County first appealed,
and then decided in December to rescind its challenged ordinance,
while leaving up road signs that invite vehicle use. Kane County's
December 12 statement
on withdrawal of the resolution,
reported in the Salt Lake
Tribune, makes clear that the county will try to pass a law that
will put the State of Utah on the hook for future lawsuits. Read
a December 19, 2006, Salt Lake Tribune editorial, calling the
county's strategy "conniving."
Summer 2007: Court
says counties have to prove their claims
In a victory for our wild places,
Judge Jenkins ordered in June 2007 that Utah's counties claimed their
rights-of-way preemptively and that the law says they have to prove
them one, single road at a time.
Read Earthjustice's press release about the decision. Also,
Read the Salt Lake Tribune's report of the victory. Check
July 5, 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the
ruling, "should put a long-overdue stop to unfettered expansion."
Check out the Land Letter's
July 12, 2007 article about the decision.
But Kane and Garfield Counties announced
they will appeal the ruling.
Read a July 11, 2007 article about the counties' decision.
September 2007: BLM lets Kane
County claim road as its own
For the first time after a
decade-long dispute, the BLM gave Kane county the right-of-way to a
nine-mile road crossing federal land, granting the county's R.S. 2477
Read a Land Letter article.
Read more in High Country News.
Conservation groups working to protect
fragile public lands are challenging BLM's decision and demanding that
Kane County's illegal road signs be removed.
Read a September 25, 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune.
October 2007: Judge refuses to throw
Conservation groups are allowed to stay on
the case to protect the Monument from illegal road signs. On October
17, 2007, Judge Tena Campbell denied Kane County's motion to force the
groups out of the case.
NOTE: BLM extended its comment period on
its finding that Bald Knoll Road is a valid R.S. 2477 Claim.