National Parks Threatened By Interior Rule

Date:   December 24, 2002
Contact:   Jim Stratton, National Parks Conservation Association, 907-277-6722
Courtney Cuff, National Parks Conservation Association, 510-839-9922 or 510-368-0115

National Parks Threatened By Interior Rule

Washington, DC - The Interior Department today released a new rule allowing states and local jurisdictions to use a Civil War era law, Revised Statute (RS) 2477 to turn old trails, abandoned dirt roads, and stream beds into new highways, despite potentially devastating impacts to national parks. Using this new rule, public lands in the west, including national parks, can be paved at the whim of state and local governments without public comment or scientific study to determine damage.
In Alaska, national parks and preserves hold RS 2477 right-of-way claims totaling more than 2,700 miles of potential road. More than half of those potential miles of road could be built in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the nation's largest. Thirteen Alaska national parks and preserves could be affected, including Denali, Bering Land Bridge, and Yukon-Charley.
"Alaska's national parks were not established to provide a whole new road network," said Jim Stratton, Alaska regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). "They were created to protect wildlife and preserve the natural working ecosystems that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Alaska each year."
In California, local counties have alleged more than 2,500 miles of RS 2477 routes in the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park, and counties in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon have asserted claims to every road on the national forest lands within the county boundaries.
"This new rule threatens to carve up national park lands, and doesn't benefit the parks or their visitors," said Courtney Cuff, NPCA's Pacific regional director. "This should be seen for what it is-a blatant effort to degrade portions of our parks and wilderness."
RS 2477, which says, "… right-of-way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted," was enacted in 1866 to encourage western expansion, and repealed by Congress in 1976, although existing claims could still be pursued. Beginning in the mid-1980s local politicians, under pressure from the mining industry, attempted to use RS 2477 to thwart wilderness designation. Wilderness areas are, by definition, roadless. In 1996, for example, Utah county officials used the statute as an excuse to build roads into the newly created Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"It is amazing that our government would release this rule just before a holiday," Stratton said. "If the Bush Administration wants to give the national parks a holiday gift, perhaps they could fulfill the promise to fund parks' basic needs."


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