Vermont Journal of Environmental Law

Volume 21 (2019-2020)

Taming America’s Rogue Roads: Unsolved R.S. 2477 Claims in Utah and Beyond

The United States boasts some of the world’s most stunning vistas, picturesque landscapes, and diverse sceneries. From the Green Mountains in Vermont to the mesas of Utah, the federal government carefully manages and protects many of the most pristine examples of America’s beauty. However, these lands are under attack. In the West, local governments are forging roads across federal public lands. In Utah, well-over 12,000 roads traverse the public’s land. Utilizing rights-of-way created under a statute enacted over 150 years ago and repealed over 40 years ago, these rogue roads are causing serious problems as they wind through protected federal lands. Congress, land management agencies, and the judicial system have failed to resolve the growing issue. Now, as the Utah Federal District Court moves forward in yet another suit to resolve such claims, the court has a chance to put into motion a real solution. A solution could not be timelier as President Trump’s administration aims to open public lands to private development. This Note will provide a brief history of Revised Statute 2477 (R.S. 2477), explore the relevant case law surrounding the issue in Utah, and survey solutions to resolve the numerous R.S. 2477 claims across the American West. Part I will explore the origin of R.S. 2477, its eventual repeal, and explain why it is the root of so much trouble today. Part II will recount the relevant Tenth Circuit case law, which is representative of the broader, national issue. Specifically, this section will examine how the case law has created a legal framework for resolving claims, and scrutinize the validity of that method. Further, Part II will examine the most recent case law to provide a view of where R.S. 2477 claims stand today. The Utah Supreme Court’s answer to the Tenth Circuit’s certified question places the ball back in District Court. Part III will explore how the Federal District Court should continue to pursue a clear legal framework to effectively and efficiently deal with unresolved claims. Lastly, this Note will briefly survey various proposed solutions—direct or indirect—beyond the courts and advocate for Congressional action through reauthorization of federal agencies to address the claims. After years of uncertainty, the time has come to resolve the R.S. 2477 claims crisscrossing the American West and protect our public lands.

Taming America’s Rogue Roads: Unsolved R.S. 2477 Claims in Utah and BeyondTaming America’s Rogue Roads: Unsolved R.S. 2477 Claims in Utah and Beyond