Conservationists have sued to force the federal government to reveal which dirt roads and trails could be turned over to Utah as part of the state's claim of ownership.
The lawsuit, filed this week by Earthjustice on behalf of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society, challenges the Department of Interior to release public information on the roads crisscrossing federal land that the state is claiming ownership to under a Civil War law known as R.S. 2477.
"Interior has established a pattern of withholding information from the public about activities that will directly impact public lands," said Leslie Jones of The Wilderness Society. "Rather than try to resolve this issue in an open, common-sense manner, Interior has chosen a path choked with secrecy and confrontation."
Federal officials say once the state files a "recordable disclaimer of interest" to the Bureau of Land Management, the information will be released. There will be a public comment period before the BLM makes a decision.
So far, only one road has been submitted. That road, known as the Weiss Highway, a two-lane highway that winds through Juab County's West Desert, is the first of 20 road claims Utah intends to submit to the BLM.
Conservationists are worried about the road claims some counties have kept secret, roads that are nothing more than dirt tracks inside wilderness areas.
"If these are really public highways, why keep the public in the dark?" questioned Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for SUWA. "If the government makes these decisions in secret discussions, the public may one day wake up surprised to find that the remote, pristine Western landscapes are crisscrossed with roads."The issue stems from a settlement agreement signed by former Gov. Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton last April to resolve issues involving R.S. 2477 roads. The state agreed it would not claim any routes inside national parks, wildlife refuges or wilderness areas. In turn, the Interior Department agreed to recognize roads traveled by trucks and cars and which existed in Utah prior to 1976.
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