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Hatch Asks Reno to Investigate Babbitt Attack on R.S. 2477

by Adena Cook,
BRC Public Lands Director

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recently met personally with Attorney General Janet Reno and asked her to investigate the Department of Interior's new stance on R.S. 2477. He told Reno that he is frustrated by actions within the Clinton Administration that deny the use and enjoyment of vested property rights over public lands by local governments.

The new stance was established by a memo released by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on January 22, 1997. The memo gives BLM land managers new directions on how to handle R.S. 2477 assertions. The memo dodges the legally required rule making procedures for establishing administrative direction. It defies Congress, which expressly prohibited Babbitt from implementing any kind of R.S. 2477 rules in the Interior Appropriations Bill passed last year.

Hatch said that the new Interior guidance policy promotes a concept of federal law that preempts state law, and is contrary to past federal court decisions. Additionally, it contains a new definition for a highway different from court decisions and R.S. 2477's original intent. Issued as a memo, it bypasses federal rule making procedures, likely a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

R.S. 2477 is a simple one-sentence law that states, "The right-of-way for the construction of highways over public land, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted." Passed in 1866, this law was repealed in 1976 as a part of the passage of the Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLPMA). However, FLPMA preserved existing rights.

Historic roads, trails, and ways that were established under R.S. 2477 were included in these rights. They should still be open to the public. Courts have consistently held that these rights of way are to be managed per state law, not by federal land management plans.

As federal land management plans have closed roads and trails, recreationists are increasingly relying on R.S. 2477 (and county authority) to keep these old roads open. Rural Southern Utah counties have used R.S. 2477 as authority to perform maintenance on roads, which are part of their essential transportation network.

During their meeting, Senator Hatch gave Attorney General Reno a detailed letter that summarized the significant legal and regulatory history of R.S. 2477. Specifically, the letter asks that Attorney General Reno (1) provide the legal basis for recent Department of Justice arguments that counties must seek permission from federal agencies before undertaking any road maintenance activity, (2) review certain pressure tactics employed by Interior officials to induce counties to forego their R.S. 2477 rights of way and (3) review the content and legal basis of Secretary Babbitt's new R.S. 2477 policy guidance of January 22.

"These rights-of-way provide the backbone of our transportation infrastructure," Hatch said, "and have deep historic and traditional roots in the overall development of the West. For this reason, I have asked the Attorney General to become personally involved in this matter."

Reno indicated to Hatch that she would begin an immediate review of the potential problems regarding these right-of-way claims.

We need to thank Senator Hatch for his support of R.S. 2477 and his willingness to press the administration for answers. Please write a short letter to Senator Hatch and thank him for his strong stand: The Honorable Orrin Hatch, United States Senate, SR 131, Washington, DC 20510.

Do you have questions on R.S. 2477? Visit the web site:

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POCATELLO, ID (June 1, 2016) – Coalition (BRC) is pleased to reveal that its long-time partner in the fight to protect recreational access, Rocky Mountain ATV-MC (RMATV-MC), has agreed once again to generously match each dollar* raised to support BRC at the upcoming annual COW TAG event hosted by Klim, another long-time partner for access.

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POCATELLO, ID (April 26, 2016) -- Coalition (BRC) is pleased to announce the recent release of issue #4 of the BlueRibbon Magazine. This issue is packed with outstanding winter articles and a variety of recreation topics.

Hard copies of the BlueRibbon Magazine should be arriving at doorsteps this week (if they have not already arrived). If your copy has not yet arrived, there's no need to wait! The digital edition of the BlueRibbon Magazine is available today, in FlipZine or PDF versions.

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It's time once again for the annual COW TAG event! Please join KLIM and the Sharetrails/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) at this one-of-a-kind ride to be held on Saturday, June 25 at Kelly Canyon, ID. Proceeds benefit trail organizations and Sharetrails/BRC. Enter to win a 2016 Beta 300RR Race Edition!...

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