R.S. 2477

Revised Statute (RS) 2477 (Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866) is a federal law that authorized the construction of roads across federal public lands. This law helped settle the West for 110 years. Residents of Utah, visitors, pioneers, and settlers created and used thousands of roads across public lands for farming, ranching, hunting, recreating, mining, accessing timber, and connecting communities. 

We continue to use many of these routes daily and some occasionally or seasonally for those purposes, as well as for search and rescue, fire suppression, management of wildlife habitat, and landscape restoration activities.

In 1976, Congress repealed R.S. 2477 and enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). FLPMA departed from the pro-settlement land policy and established a preference for retaining lands in federal ownership. Nonetheless, Section 701 of FLPMA preserved all R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that existed at the time FLPMA was passed for public use. 

Today, the State and counties rely on R.S. 2477 to establish ownership of these routes that have been used for access and must prove that the routes have been used continuously for ten years prior to the passage of FLPMA in 1976.

There is no formal administrative or judicial process under FLPMA to confirm the State and counties’ ownership of R.S. 2477 roads. Because of this, sometimes the federal government manages routes on its land without considering local, county, and State interests. Special interest groups representing specific uses often want to participate in public land and route management decisions. The question of “who owns a road” becomes central when these interest groups and their uses are at odds.

The State and 22 of its counties have filed litigation to preserve your access to R.S. 2477 routes. This litigation does not seek new roads or the expansion of existing rights-of-way but only to maintain what already exists on the ground.

Bellwether Initiative and Trial

On July 31, 2015, and on its own initiative, the Federal District Court for the District of Utah entered an order establishing a process designed to ultimately result in a more efficient way of processing the 12,500 right-of-way claims throughout the state. The order creates a “Bellwether” process by which the parties have now stipulated to, and the Court has approved, fifteen (15) rights-of-way in Kane County that exemplify remaining legal issues regarding the determination of R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. These fifteen (15) rights-of-way will be tried in the District Court at an expedited trial set for February 2020.

Once all legal issues have been resolved, one or more special masters will be appointed by the court to more expeditiously resolve all R.S. 2477 right-of-way claims throughout the state.

PLPCO’s Role

PLPCO assists the Utah Attorney General’s Office in R.S. 2477 litigation by providing research and litigation support.