Moffat County asserts rights over roads on public lands

Caspar Star-Tribune


DINOSAUR, Colo. (AP) - A century-old mining law could reopen roads in Moffat County that have been closed to drivers for years under federal mandates.

County commissioners on Friday voted unanimously to invoke the law, asserting rights to manage more than 1,000 acres of routes on public lands currently managed by the U.S. government.

Dinosaur Mayor Richard Blakley said he was excited about the prospect of again driving up to Moose Mountain, which the Bureau of Land Management closed to motorized travel in the mid-1980s.

Blakely said residents are excited too.

''They're saying 'Hey, we can start traveling these roads again,''' he said.

Ten environmental groups, including the Colorado Environmental Coalition, have protested the county's use of the 1866 law in this northwestern Colorado county of 3 million acres and 13,000 people.

''I think this comes from a sagebrush rebel kind of thing. Their desire is to think it's their land, not federal land,'' said Pete Kolbenschlag with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Moffat County has pushed for years to gain more control of the 1.8 million acres of public lands within its borders. On an inventory map released by the county, the routes over which it claims jurisdiction range from cow paths to gravel roads that cut through Dinosaur National Monument and more than 300,000 acres proposed for wilderness designation.

The law used by Moffat County was repealed in 1976 when the federal government reserved for public uses all remaining federal land not already in forests, parks or monuments. But states and counties can still claim a right of way if they prove that the route was constructed before the land was reserved.

New rules published by the Bush administration in December removed a requirement that proof be furnished in court, instead allowing claims to be administered by the BLM.

John Husband, BLM field manager in Moffat County, said there is still a moratorium on processing the claims.

Environmental groups and federal land managers are planning to do their own inventories this spring of the routes claimed by Moffat County.

They and the county would not rule out the possibility of lawsuits over the matter.

''This is a big Western issue that affects all federal land management agencies across the West,'' said Chas Cartwright, superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument.

Counties in Utah and Alaska also have invoked the 1866 law to assert rights on public land routes.


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