BLM must act to control OHVs on potential RS 2477 roads
A self-styled legal expert from Gunnison named David Justice, Grand Junction businessman and spokesman for total public-lands access on RS 2477 roads Brandon Siegfried and Garfield County Commissioner John Martin are all working to unleash virtually unregulated off-highway vehicle access to public lands in western Colorado.
Their radical road-opening proposals are a deliberate challenge to Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service jurisdiction over RS 2477 road decisions. “The BLM has no legal jurisdiction over rights-of-way,” Siegfried recently told the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.
Not only does the federal government have no jurisdiction over RS 2477 routes, Siegfried argued, but “federal agencies need to appear before county boards of commissioners to ask permission to close a legal right of way.”
Not likely, but the suggestion reveals the self-righteous attitude of these road warriors, who would rank the authority of county commissioners over that of federal land management agencies charged with managing our public lands for ecological health and multiple uses.
The Western Slope has seen some hot battles over RS 2477 roads, but never one quite so strange as what is happening now. With a cast of self-inflated characters made for comedy, it is almost easy to forget that the issue of access to public lands is no laughing matter.
Last July 21, a mob of 23 anti-government vandals spent several hours “wielding chainsaws, torches, shovels and picks” to reopen Cushman Creek Road near Olathe, which the BLM closed several years ago.
By Justice’s own account, these trespassers on public land tore down and removed three rock and metal barriers installed by the BLM to close the road to vehicular traffic. They also “did some road leveling and brush cutting, and placed stickers stating R.S. 2477 Protected Right of Way” over BLM signage that the road is closed.
According to Ron Bain, editor of The Western Slope Watchdog blog, where the activities of this band of public land vigilantes are reported, this was no spontaneous outburst, but a carefully planned exhibition to announce the presence of a new organization in the Grand Valley and nearby counties.
The mastermind of this little demonstration was David Justice a Gunnison anti-government zealot. Self-assured and seeming to believe himself to be above the law, Justice turned his attention to this region after succeeding in opening a road with a RS 2477 claim in the White River National Forest.
Justice pontificates endlessly about legal rights and composes long quasi-legal looking “briefs” stating his position that all identifiable RS 2477 roads should be open to vehicular traffic.
In his defense of county authority to open roads on public lands, Justice cites only cases he believes support his position, while ignoring any that would contest his opinion.
The same is true of laws passed to protect public lands from destruction by unrestricted OHV travel.
Justice is equally adept at disclaiming responsibility for the damage he inflicts. After wrecking the barrier to vehicular travel on Cushman Creek Road, Justice wrote to the Montrose County commissioners, “I have no plans to be involved with the reopening of any more roads. The message has been sent. I trust it will be received.”
Apparently oblivious to the fact that he had broken the law, Justice seems surprised that the BLM doesn’t interpret his “symbolic” gestures as he does. Despite his elaborate explanations that he acted within the law, Justice complained, “We are being investigated by two persons representing themselves to be special agents of the Department of the Interior.”
That investigation should proceed with all possible speed. The threat to claim every ancient Indian trail, burro track, stock trail or casual path as a county road under RS 2477 may or may not be illegal, but it certainly seems unwise. And it’s creating tension.
Anyone who believes that people will stand idly by if their public-lands activities are impacted negatively by OHV activity should reconsider. The quiet-use community, ranchers with grazing rights, hunters who believe wildlife and OHVs don’t mix and others have a stake in this dispute.
Until RS 2477 claims are settled, the BLM should use its mandate to promote multiple uses of public lands and to stop off-roaders from ruining public land for other uses until a new travel plan is in effect.