Determining public rights of way on roads across public lands was something that Duchesne County officials knew they would have to do sooner or later.
But a recent announcement by the U.S. Forest Service has pushed the work into the "do-it-now" category.County commissioners have hired three people to spend the next 45 days examining maps and looking up old documents from the 1800s to 1976 to pinpoint the location of all public rights of way on every road in the county labeled as "RS 2477" - or roads that traverse lands administered by the federal government.
In 1976, Congress made changes in the law so that only the most recent rights of way and documented older rights of way would be legally recognized.
"They will identify all roads, trails, footpaths - any roads that show where commerce had taken place. The Department of Interior has taken the position that these rights of way aren't valid; our position is that they are public rights of way, and we are identifying them now," explained Duchesne County Commissioner Larry Ross.
Researchers will review all 6,400 sections (a section is one mile square) in Duchesne County to determine the township and range where the right of way exists and to enter it into the public record for legal classification purposes.
"It's quite an issue for us. We feel our public is entitled to have access to these public lands. If we don't do this only the roads used recently will become public rights of way, " Ross said.
"The Forest Service has taken a serious initiative to close some of the roads and we don't approve."
Ross says commissioners have received complaints from citizens who are questioning why certain roads on forest land have been blocked.
U.S. Department of Agricultures Chief of the Forest Service Mike Dombeck last month proposed a major overhaul of the forest road system, including a proposal to halt all road construction in roadless areas on National Forest. Environmental concerns and costs were cited as factors in the decision.
The agency has identified three expected outcomes for the final road management policy:
- Fewer forest roads will be built and those that are built will minimize environmental impacts.
- Roads that are no longer needed or that cause significant environmental damage will be removed.
- Roads that are most heavily used by the public will be made safer and promote more efficient use.
"Some RS 2477 roads may already be closed, but once the mapping is done we can go to the agency and have it reopened. There is the probability that the Forest Service will close some RS 2477 roads in our county, " said Ross, adding that county leaders want to obtain factual information before confronting any agency about road closures.