Misguided effort to take federal roads is on the fast track
A wildfire is burning across the federal lands in the West, and I am afraid it is out of control. This wildfire is called Revised Statute 2477.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was flying low over southern Montana, I was impressed with the large number of roads in the forest.
Montana has a culture of “natural resource extraction.” It is as germane to its economy as skiing is to ours.
The roads are necessary to remove the timber from the forest. The roads are very ugly and destructive, and I am thankful we do not have the same thing happening in Colorado.
Imagine a road cutting across the face of Buffalo Mountain, right in the middle of the Gore Range’s Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
You can see the same thing in old mining areas – though there aren’t that many around Keystone and Breckenridge.
Most of the mining here was placer mining, and the miners packed the ore out on their backs or by horses and mules.
Revised Statute 2477 is a law that was passed in the 19th century that allows for public right of way on virtually any road or trail.
It gives the right to build county roads or highways on federal land.
It allows roads to be built in wilderness areas.
Congress repealed the law in 1976, but some counties in Colorado are trying to keep it alive.
The law has so far been interpreted as only applying to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.
Summit County has only a few acres of BLM land up by Green Mountain Reservoir. That is the good news. The bad news is that if it applies to BLM land, it won’t be long before some folks will apply it to wilderness lands in the National Forest.
It has not happened yet – but it could.
Last week, Colorado Counties Incorporated (CCI) passed a hurry-up resolution supporting Moffat County’s interpretation of the law.
Several years ago, the current Board of County Commissioners in Summit County voted to end its membership in CCI for this very reason.
Yes, that is the same Moffat County that proposed charter forests where counties would manage all federal lands and get the U.S. government out of the National Forest business.
Moffat County, in far northwestern Colorado, feels it needs to control the roads so they can be used for energy companies. Sound familiar.
San Juan County wants the same thing. Its argument is it needs to control the roads for “ecotourism.”
Currently, counties need a permit from the BLM to maintain or improve roads on federal land.
If the Moffat County effort is successful, counties could do all the work without any permit.
Reality check: The people of the United States own all of the federal lands.
Neither Moffat County nor San Juan County owns any federal land.
A person running a bait shop in Key West owns as much of the federal land as an outfitter in Walden.
It is the same deal. It is what America is all about. No one person or special interest group has any more or less influence or control over federal lands.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton recently agreed to give jurisdiction of BLM lands in Utah to the state of Utah.
The governor there has refused to accept jurisdiction for fear of what the counties might do.
Our congressman, Mark Udall, has offered amendments to proposals concerning the process for mitigating RS 2477.
This would not allow Norton to negotiate separately with the states. So far, the amendments have not been accepted or approved.
Club 20, the Western Slope interest group of which Summit County is a member, recently opposed Udall’s amendments concerning RS 2477.
I am a director of Club 20 for Summit County, and I do not remember being asked to vote on this matter.
I have asked the executive director for clarification and have yet to receive a response.
In 1977, Congress passed a law that prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from negotiating agreements on the roads.
Confused? So am I.
All I can say at this point is, “stay tuned.” Read what you can on the subject and let your elected officials know how you feel.
It does not look like wildfire RS 2477 will be put out soon.
County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom writes a Thursday column for the Summit Daily News.
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