(KCPW News) Conservation groups say the state of Utah’s attempt to take over federal rights of way is a multimillion-dollar poke in the eye that will only harm the scenic backcountry. Utah officials filed a notice of intent to sue with the federal government last year, seeking rights to more than 25,000 claims across Utah they say are existing roadways. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Associate Director and Counsel Heidi McIntosh says these amount to 45,000 miles of trails, cow paths, old seismic lines and dry streambeds.
“It’s going to cost millions of dollars to litigate and in the end what we’ll end up with is a lot of paths to nowhere,” McIntosh says. “They don’t access anything. They don’t serve any purpose. Yet we will have spent a lot of money and we would have really undermined the ability to protect these places in the future.”
Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General John Swallow says the purpose of the state’s action is to preserve historical usage of these roads from as far back as the 1800s. He says the state consulted with local governments and residents to put together evidence that they are historical rights of way.
“I can certainly say that we’ve worked in good faith to only document those roads that we have evidence of a historical right of way and to simply be able to have the court rule that the state is right in taking this position,” Swallow says. And if the state for some reason isn’t right on a position then certainly the court won’t find it that way.”
Swallow says if the state doesn’t stand up for these lands, it will lose access to natural resources and the ability to recreate as people have done in the past.