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California County Again Rebuffed In Trying To Claim A Road In Remote Section Of Death Valley National Park


Nearly four years after a federal judge tossed out most of the claims by a California county to what it considered roads in a remote area of Death Valley National Park, the judge has thrown out the final piece of the claims.

Back in October 2006, Inyo County filed a lawsuit claiming it was within its rights to maintain the rights-of-way for the two stretches of "highway" that the county contended had been recognized as county highways for decades. Under the county's plan, the roads would run through Greenwater Canyon, Greenwater Valley, and Last Chance Canyon. Those areas were designated as wilderness when Death Valley was given national park status in 1994. Today the areas are home to desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep and other park wildlife. There are also rock art sites in the areas.

County officials had hoped to take control of the routes using a repealed, 19th-century right-of-way law known as R.S. 2477. They sought rights-of-way in hopes of tearing down National Park Service barriers and initially asked for the right to build two-lane highways in roadless desert canyons and valleys.

But on August 8, 2008, U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii ruled that the county waited too long to assert its claims to the three roads within the national park because they were included in wilderness study areas by the federal Bureau of Land Management in 1979. He agreed with arguments by conservation groups and the National Park Service that the county’s claims were barred because it had failed to file its lawsuit within the 12-year statute of limitations. The court thus dismissed the county’s claims to all of one route and most of the other two routes.

On Tuesday the judge tossed the final piece concerning a half-mile of Last Chance Canyon, holding that, "The factual context of public use indicates unequivocally that the segment of Last Chance Road at issue in these cross-motions for summary judgment never existed as a highway within the meaning of either California common law or within the meaning of federal law interpreting R.S. 2477."

“This is a great day for Death Valley National Park and the wildlife that call it home,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm representing the conservation groups in the lawsuit. “The court’s ruling preserves the solitude and grandeur of this desert wilderness in the largest national park in the lower 48.”

The Last Chance Mountains -- at the northern end of Death Valley near the California-Nevada border about 80 miles southeast of Bishop, CA -- are a remote and scenic range that is home to cougar, deer, coyote, and badger.

“This decision closes down a major threat to Death Valley National Park and protects the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep and many other rare plants and wildlife that call the park home,” said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, who also worked on the case. “It means that counties can’t obstruct efforts to protect national parks and other natural areas by claiming as a highway every wash a jeep may have once driven down.”

Six conservation groups – Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, California Wilderness Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Inyo—represented by Earthjustice intervened to support the National Park Service in the case.


Why did the county want to do this? What was the point?

I really hate RS 2477. You should see some of the places that Inyo County considered "roads" in DEVA. One involved winching your vehicle completely vertically up a waterfall. Really? A road? I became so upset over some of these lawsuits while I was in DEVA that I focused on RS 2477 for one of my research projects for my master's. If anyone wants to read it (in case you can't sleep...ha!)....

Alan C., the way I see it, counties want to do this to get some power over the federal gov't. They see the feds as restrictive and taking away their rights to drive all over everything and destroy it. I've worked in a couple western parks and local counties have used RS 2477 to sue the NPS in all of them.

I hope the same thing will happen here in Utah, where our loonislature is trying to "reclaim" literally thousands of miles of "roads." Some of those tracks through the sagebrush have not felt a tire in many, many, many years. Some are streambeds (Paria River, for example). Some are slot canyons so narrow that a person can hardly squeeze through.

But then, Utah is campaigning to "reclaim" virtually all Federal land within its borders -- including national parks. The sagebrushers in our capitol building think they can sell it all to private owners and bring in gazooolions of dollars for our public schools. Yet at the same time, they are doing all they can to destroy the public school system and create a system of charter, for-profit, schools.

The majority of our Republican legislators are active in ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an ultra-"conservative" organization that pushes such corporate friendly things as private prisons, stiff mandatory sentences for crimes to ensure a steady flow of customers for those prisons, anti-labor union agendas, anti-public education, and many other very frightening ideas. If you don't know what ALEC is and what they are trying to do, you need to start doing your homework right now!

You can be sure ALEC is alive and well in your state Capitol, too.

Rangerlady, I would love to see your dissertation!

I, too, worked on this case, and would really like to see some county politicians repay both their county taxpayers and the federal taxpayers for the money that was wasted in this case (and other cases) just for political gain. This one in particular, was a half mile stretch, half of that which was two-track, and in my stay we wasted three trips with between four and eight people - each trip taking an entire work day due to the remoteness of Last Chance Canyon Rd.

I was just reading through my paper on RS2477 and I realized I used NPT as one of my sources! Thanks helped me get an A!

Hmmmm...did you get permission, RangerLady? Copyright infringement can be costly....;-)

We need to talk late next week about RS2477.

It's unfortunate that states engage in quixotic R.S. 2477 crusades, but also unfortunate that the federal government ties up so much land in some states with rather rigid use policies. If Congress functioned better, we might reach a compromise.

Don't worry Kurt, NPT received complete credit for the information and all sources were well documented in APA format. =) But if I still need to resort to chocolate bribery, just let me know. Although it may have to wait until winter so it doesn't melt in the mail.

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