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County and Forest Service bury the shovel

 

A long-running dispute over an infamous dirt road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest may be winding down.

The Forest Service and Elko County, Nev., are asking a federal judge to approve a settlement over the county’s claim to South Canyon Road in Jarbidge Canyon. Although the agency still refuses to recognize the county’s assertion of a historic right of way, it has agreed not to contest it. In exchange for getting greater control over the road, the county has pledged that neither it nor anyone else will modify the road without agency approval.

The agreement — signed in 2001, but put on hold by a federal judge in 2003 — was an about-face for the Forest Service. The agency closed a washed-out section of the road in 1998 to protect threatened bull trout in the Jarbidge River. That prompted attempts by the county and Jarbidge Shovel Brigade protesters to reopen the road (HCN, 7/31/00: Kicking and Screaming in Nevada).

Last year, in a separate move, the Forest Service decided that re-opening a segment of the damaged road wouldn’t harm the fish. Nor will the settlement affect efforts to protect resources in the area, says Forest Supervisor Bob Vaught: "It’s a good deal for the Forest Service and a good deal for the bull trout."

Environmental groups disagree with that assessment. The Forest Service is also making "an end run around the federal laws that govern granting new rights-of-way on national forests," says Michael Freeman, an attorney representing The Wilderness Society and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

The 2003 court ruling sided with environmental groups, saying the settlement doesn’t follow federal procedures for granting public-land easements. U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Reno will rule on the case after hearings in June.