Ruling impacts county's claim on roads

A little more than a year ago, Moffat County commissioners adopted a resolution granting the county the right-of-way on all roads that traverse public lands within the county.

It sparked a heated debate because the county claimed that any cow path, jeep trail or wagon trail is a "road." It was a shrewd move to keep the public lands these county roads are on from being considered for wilderness designation. Wilderness areas, by definition, must be roadless.

The BLM has identified sections of the Vermilion Basin as having wilderness characteristics, but the county's road inventory identified roads that would pre-empt wilderness designation in those areas.

The commissioners have made no secret of the fact that they oppose wilderness designations and they've trotted out studies that show Moffat County residents feel the same way. They favor "multiple use" designations for public land.

Environmental groups warned the resolution could change the face of Northwest Colorado, allowing bulldozers onto federal land for the creation of highways.

Commissioners said that wouldn't happen and so far it hasn't. The county has made no claims of ownership of the roads and hasn't tried to maintain them.

Good thing too. A federal judge just ruled that three rural counties in Utah who tried that tactic were in violation of the law. The Utah Attorney General appealed the ruling and a federal appeals court whose jurisdiction includes Moffat County will sort out the murky issue of road claims.

The judge's ruling may signal a change in just how aggressively rural counties can attempt to control land use on lands that belong to everyone -- not just the residents of the counties where those lands lie.

It would allow groups like the Northwest Colorado Stewardship to do their work unconstrained by a narrow agenda, which we think is a good thing.

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