Salt Creek:  SUWA Wins Battle in Court of Appeals; War Goes on

Salt Creek (small)
Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park

The fight for Salt Creek, a meandering stream in Canyonlands National Park which San Juan County and the State of Utah say is actually a “highway” under R.S. 2477, has been in court for over 10 years.  It’s most recent incarnation was when the state and county filed a federal lawsuit in 2004 to gain title to the stream bed after that same court upheld the National Park Service’s decision to close Salt Creek to vehicle use because of the pollution, soil erosion, loss of native plants and the like caused by jeeps.

In the three years since, the state and county have done nothing but try to prevent SUWA (and The Wilderness Society) from participating in the lawsuit.  Their argument?  We just didn’t have enough interest in the case; this despite the 10 years SUWA has spent in litigation and other means to finally protect Salt Creek.  (Early on we obtained an injunction against jeep use.)   It is a private property dispute, they argued, and the public has no role here.  “Go away,” they said.

In 2004, the district court in Salt Lake City denied our request to intervene.  Later, a  three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.  Finally, on October 2, 2007, a full complement of the court -- 13 judges came out with a decision vindicating our argument that SUWA does have a sufficient interest to participate in the suit. 

There’s a hitch though: the court also thought that the federal government is at present adequately representing our interest so we can’t participate as full parties yet.  We are gathering information on this issue for all the similar RS 2477 cases now pending.  We’re confident we’ll be able to participate at the first sign the federal government is wavering in its defense of the places under attack from R.S. 2477 claims.


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