The RS2477 Threat

Lands at Risk

Threats to
Private Property



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About RS 2477  |  History  |  "Disclaimer Rule"


About RS 2477:
A Monumental Threat to Our Natural Treasures

Across the West, state and local governments are getting ready to file thousands of unsubstantiated claims for federal rights-of-way under the provisions of an 1866 mining law known as RS (Revised Statute) 2477. Repealed by Congress in 1976, this law was originally intended to serve the narrow goal of granting the right to construct and use highways across public lands that were not otherwise reserved or set aside for other public uses (such as to protect water supplies, forests, wildlife, or scenic beauty). Instead, it is now viewed as a loophole to allow the bulldozing of a spider web of roads across some of our most scenic and valued national parks and refuges.

The great majority of these phantom-road claims are illegitimate assertions meant to undermine federal protected areas, thwart wilderness protection (because the presence of a road generally disqualifies an area for wilderness designation), and serve special interests, such as mining, timber, and oil and gas industries, and off-road-vehicle users. Some counties are asserting RS 2477 road-building rights-of-way claims for cow paths, horse trails, riverbeds, off-road vehicle routes, and for overgrown trails that have not been maintained or driven on for decades, if ever.

Although many of these claims are obviously bogus, the threats are all too real. The unmanaged and unnecessary creation of new roads in pristine areas would degrade water quality, destroy and fragment wildlife habitat, increase the risk of vandalism to archeological sites, encourage the destructive use of off-road vehicles outside of designated-use areas, increase erosion, destroy the peace and quiet of wild areas, and undermine conservation efforts for lands that are meant to be preserved for future generations. This long-outdated statute would allow special interests to bulldoze highways, utility corridors, and pipelines into our most precious parks and refuges and threatens to have a lasting and devastating impact on America’s Western public lands.

The largest emerging threat posed is a new rule adopted by the Interior Department that makes giveaways and bulldozing under RS 2477 easier. Learn more about the Disclaimer Rule.

2005: Forest Service Steps Back from Proposal to Open the Door to Damaging Highway Claims

On July 15, 2004, the Forest Service issued a draft rule to help the agency get a handle on off-road vehicle use on its 190 million acres. Buried in the proposal were provisions that would allow Forest Service staff to effectively recognize potentially damaging RS 2477 rights-of-way without public input, notice, or environmental review. Read the proposed rule.

The proposal to permit the Forest Service to “ascertain” ownership of rights-of-way violates a congressional ban on rulemakings pertaining to RS 2477, overturns an agency moratorium on processing RS 2477 claims, and would permit the agency to revert to guidance that defines rights-of-way in an illegally broad manner. As the regulation is drafted, it would also likely result in the Forest Service's abdicating its responsibility to protect forest resources from damaging vehicle use. In short, the FS proposal to permit the FS staff to “ascertain” whether RS 2477 right-of-way claims are valid is poor policy and threatens public resources. Read a September 10, 2004, comment letter by The Wilderness Society criticizing the Forest Service’s approach.

Prominent Congressional conservationists expressed their concern about the Forest Service proposal in an October 8, 2004, letter to the Chief.

Good news:  the Forest Service final rule on travel planning, announced November 2, 2005, steps back from its prior proposal.  The response to comments portion of the rule explains: 

The exemption for a road or trail “which an authorized officer has ascertained, for administrative purposes and based on available evidence, is within a public right-of-way for a highway, such as a right-of-way for a highway pursuant to RS 2477” has been removed from the definition for a road or trail under Forest Service jurisdiction in the final rule.  As stated above, the remaining text in that definition has been moved to the definitions for “National Forest System road” and “National Forest System trail” in the final rule.  The exemption for legally documented rights-of-way held by State, county, or other local public road authorities covers rights-of-way under RS 2477 that have been adjudicated through the Federal court system or otherwise formally established. The Department does not want to give the appearance of establishing the validity of unresolved RS 2477 right-of-way claims in determining the applicability of this final rule.

 Read the entire Forest Service final rule.

2006: Department of Interior poised for land giveaway

Department of the Interior documents indicate that the agency is poised to adopt a streamlined process for considering and approving requests from county governments in the West to gain control of thousands of Jeep tracks and faint trails. This could entail the federal government’s effectively surrendering control of the tracks, some of which cross national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, wildernesses, and wilderness study areas.  Learn more about the land giveaway and Norton's Parting Shot.

Check out a July 2007 cartoon and an article about R.S. 2477!


Just how big a threat to our public lands and private property is RS 2477? How can we protect these special places? Who is working to protect them? To get a quick grasp of the issue, check out the fact sheets below.

Learn about the threat from RS 2477 and the Bush administration's illegal 'disclaimer' rule in this 'Stop the Public Lands Giveaway' fact sheet (date: 9/16/03)

Get a quick overview of threats to special places in California (date: 9/16/03)


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