San Juan County officials recently removed federal "road closed" signs on three dirt roads they claim in the Grand Gulch area of southeastern Utah. The action could provoke a lawsuit to test who owns these roads - San Juan County or the Bureau of Land Management (HCN, 10/28/96: Utah counties bulldoze the BLM, Park Service).
San Juan County officials say an 1866 federal law gives them control over hundreds of miles of dirt roads that run through BLM-controlled land. Federal officials dispute many of these claims, arguing some of these routes are not even roads.
The outcome could have major consequences for Utah's long-running wilderness debate. County officials argue that many of the wilderness areas proposed by BLM and environmental groups are ineligible for wilderness designation because they are crisscrossed by county-owned roads. If the counties prevail, Utah would have much less land eligible for wilderness.
A recent check of BLM records revealed that the agency had not completed the formal process needed to close roads in San Juan County. The BLM now is beginning that process, which is expected to take a few months. Then the "closed" signs on those roads will be replaced. Instead of taking legal action against the county, BLM's Kent Walter said his agency simply will replace the "road closed" sign on a route into Collins Canyon.
Says Walter, "We'll see how many times I've got to put it back."