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Bush policy could bulldoze Western wilderness

by Cindy Wendt, Science & Environment editor


Miles of open land untouched by the hand of industrialization are being threatened by a new Bush Administration policy that could allow bulldozing of roads across protected areas in the Western U.S.

According to The Wilderness Society, the introduction of this new policy could grant state governments rights-of-way to “open up the West to further invasion by off-road vehicles, the oil and gas industry, and other developers.”

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This policy includes new rules made by the Department of Interior that could revive R.S. 2477, a statute included in the 1866 Mining Act. R.S. 2477 granted rights-of-way to miners and pioneers but was repealed by Congress in 1976.

Officials of the Department of Interior say the new rules clear up legal controversies over the management of western lands.

According to a 1993 National Park Service memo, R.S. 2477 claims could affect up to 17 million acres of National Park lands. The Wilderness Society said that some of the areas targeted for road building include the Mojave National Preserve and the Dinosaur National Monument. Also, the Utah government may assert up to 10,000 claims to paths across Zion and Canyonland National Parks. Other claims could affect 900,000 miles of section lines and title to the beds of 22,000 lakes, rivers, and streams in Alaska.

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“Roads damage watersheds and erode soil while giving access to noisy vehicles that pollute the air,” said The Wilderness Society. “Roads would destroy the wilderness character.”

The Wilderness Society said that road claims have little to do with transportation needs. “Rewriting the rules for R.S. 2477 claims has been a favored tactic of right-wing vehicular access groups such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition and county supremacy groups in Utah and Alaska.” Despite 40,000 miles of public road networks across lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, anti-environmental groups want to create thousands of more miles of roads across wild lands in the West.
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“They constitute a land grab on a colossal scale.”

The Wilderness Society encourages people to challenge these new rules by contacting a local congressional representative.

To take action immediately go to




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