The President’s Agenda: R.S. 2477

I understand that Mitt Romney yesterday wrapped up the required number of delegates to call himself officially the Republican candidate for president. The occasion gives me an excuse to offer another installment to my series of posts on The President’s Agenda.

On today’s agenda, I urge the next president to finish what the Federal Land Policy and Management Act began in 1976 and end the misery of R.S. 2477! A relic from the age of President Andrew Johnson, R.S. 2477 is the source of incredibly costly and potentially limitless political drama, legal warfare, and bureaucratic hand-wringing.

A product of the 1866 Mining Act, R.S. 2477 is nothing more than a right-of-way grant. The exact language is: “The right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.” That single sentence – and that is all there is to the R.S. 2477 text – has spawned three decades of unrelenting conflict, beginning with the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1980’s, as predominantly western counties and states fight the feds for control over every wagon rut and footpath, imagined or real, that could possibly have existed since the dawn of time. The reward for the states? Access and control: unrestricted access to public lands and their untapped natural wealth, and control over the management of these lands by exercising their R.S. 2477 rights-of-way.

In a past job, I spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with R.S. 2477. I could offer you an analysis worthy of the finest legal journal of every R.S. 2477 legal treatise and court case if it would do any good. But it would not do any good. For you see, there is no resolution to the R.S. 2477 mess. There will never be a resolution to the R.S. 2477 mess until the law is repealed in totality.

You must understand: R.S. 2477 claims are the hammer with which the western states seek to break the federal government’s grasp on the public lands and all those valuable but locked up natural resources harbored therein. Each blow of the hammer loosens the grasp and pries the fingers open a little more. Massaging that hand, restoring its vice-like grip of federal authority to govern the public lands are the environmental groups (and others) who have no interest in roads, let alone the new mining claims they may lead to. And even though the federal government’s authority over public lands tends to wax rather than wane when R.S. 2477 cases go to court, the tide of R.S. 2477 claims is never ending, and no court case will ever result in an ultimatum that ends the political strife. For you see, no matter what the courts decree, no matter the administrative process put in place, no matter the political will of the parties involved, there will always be another road to fight over, to use as leverage, to swing as a hammer, to keep the conflict alive. End R.S. 2477 now.

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