Wheeling and dealing

 

UTAH

Roads are again at the center of the long debate over Utah wilderness. Two environmental groups say they fear the Bureau of Land Management and the governor's office have a secret deal in the works that would settle a dispute over Utah counties' claims to thousands of dirt roads and trails on federal lands. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Wilderness Society sued the BLM in October to release any documents the state has submitted on its counties' claims.

"Basically, we're trying to bust down the door," says SUWA's Heidi McIntosh. SUWA leveled the suit after repeated attempts to get information, including a Freedom of Information Act request, were denied. If successful, the lawsuit would make the negotiation process public.

Many of the roads in question cut through areas currently considered "roadless." Federal recognition of the county right-of-way claims means large swaths of land could never be designated as wilderness (HCN, 10/28/96: Utah counties bulldoze the BLM, Park Service).

The BLM and the state began negotiating after Gov. Mike Leavitt, R, threatened to sue the federal agency, asserting that more than 10,000 roads and trails crisscrossing Utah's backcountry rightfully belong to the state's counties.

John Boyden, a state assistant attorney general, says his office and the BLM are still in the "preliminary stages" of negotiation. He adds that the massive amount of documentation needed from each county would probably make the state's potential lawsuit the largest in Utah history.

 

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Tim Westby

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