Increased Access????

Discussion in 'Land Use' started by Bubba Ray Boudreaux, Dec 24, 2002.

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    Jan 21, 2001
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    Policy Could Increase Access to Wild Lands

    Administration is willing to give disputed roads and paths to state and
    local governments. The environment could suffer, critics say.

    By Elizabeth Shogren
    Times Staff Writer

    December 24 2002

    WASHINGTON -- Disputed roads and paths through wilderness areas could be
    made more accessible to the public if state
    and local governments take advantage of a new policy that the Bush
    administration is expected to announce later this week,
    according to environmentalists and Interior Department officials.

    The policy could permit traffic across disputed rights of way that cross
    all kinds of federal lands -- from national parks to
    refuges and forests.

    "The impact will be felt in numerous small property disputes between
    state agencies and the federal government," said James
    Hughes, deputy director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land

    "We'll be able to resolve those without lengthy legal disputes or
    congressional action."

    Environmental groups and their supporters in Congress say that the new
    so-called "recordable disclaimer interest rule" could
    harm public lands by opening the door for the Bush administration to
    transfer to the states ownership of thousands of disputed
    rights of way.

    The result could be fewer protected wilderness areas and more access for
    motorized vehicles, they said.

    The impact is expected to be greatest in Utah and Alaska, where the
    states dispute thousands of miles of trails, animal tracks
    and even former wagon routes.

    California could feel the impact of the rule too, because some counties,
    such as San Bernardino, have already cleared the way
    to claim the contested paths.

    "This will let the administration enter into closed-door negotiations
    for paving our national parks, refuges and forests," Sen.
    Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "It's another dilution of the 'public' part
    of 'public lands.' "

    Congressional Democrats and environmentalists criticized the policy as
    the most recent of many actions by the administration to
    cut back on environmental protections.

    But the Bush administration said its new policy is aimed at avoiding
    costly bureaucratic red tape. "Our goal is to not spend a lot
    of money adjudicating this or spend the Congress' time on what is
    basically an administrative issue," said Hughes, the Interior

    The critics said the administration was seeking a route to reestablish
    Statute 2477, an 1866 law that allowed states to claim
    rights of way across federal lands. Congress repealed that rule in 1976.

    A draft fact sheet explaining the administration's initiative states
    that Statute 2477 right of way disputes can "without question"
    be resolved through the new policy. However, the administration argues
    that the new policy is crafted broadly enough that it
    does not conflict with a moratorium on rules and regulations relating
    narrowly to Statute 2477.

    Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness
    Alliance, said the full impact of the new policy is "not
    going to be apparent immediately."

    "Eventually, thousands of these so-called rights of way will be given
    away," she said.

    This could end up making it harder for groups such as hers to pressure
    Congress to designate remote areas as wilderness, she
    said. Areas can be disqualified as wilderness if there is preexisting

    She also said it could make it easier for off-road vehicle enthusiasts
    to gain access to protected public lands. "There are a
    variety of ways this statute could really wreak havoc on public lands
    management and protections," McIntosh said.

    But Hughes said the environmentalists were painting a "worst-case
    scenario" of the effects of the new policy.

    "I think they're probably overstating the impact of the rule," Hughes


    Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this report.
    If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at

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