Something we boondockers and backroads explorers should keep an eye on is the developing negotiations between the state of Utah and the administrators of its public lands--the BLM, Forest Service, and National Park Service. States for decades have fought for control of state roads that cross public lands, and mostly losing the battle.
Acting at the direction of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, BLM Director Bob Abbey called Friday for meetings with Utah state officials to settle the dispute of who has authority and control of the hundreds of miles of dirt roads that crisscross public lands that lie within state boundaries.
"The dispute is over historic passageways across lands owned by BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service," reported Ogden's Standard-Examiner. "Utah officials say a one-sentence 1866 law assured open passage across the federal lands. The law -- repealed in 1976 with protection for existing roads -- set off protracted fights about which routes crisscrossing the West qualify for local control.
"Many of the roads are faint tracks and barely passable even by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Others are maintained roads open for travel. Utah wants to control or take title to all of these roads, or at least settle the debate about who controls which roads . . . "
The question is how the outcome will affect outdoor recreation--especially RVers, boondockers, mountain bikers, and 4WD jeep and truck users in a state known for its national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon) and monuments, spectacular back country scenery and vast expanses of wild, undeveloped open lands.
Does control mean that either the state or public agency can arbitrarily close roads at their discretion? In past years the federal government has closed certain roads and lawsuits brought by Utah counties affected by the closures usually failed.
Environmental groups, who will "take part" in the negotiations hope to protect much of what they describe as wilderness-worthy sites, keeping them restricted from motorized vehicles. At issue also is what cash-strapped agencies will do if they are granted control of the roads. Will they start charging access fees to popular recreation, trailhead, or boondocking areas like in the Dixie National Forest (photos), and could it mean the end of maintained, back country, dirt roads accessible by RVers to get to boondocking areas?
Check this blog for follow-ups to this issue as they develop.