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Story from today's L.A. Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-surprise28nov28,0,5716675.story?coll=la-home-headlines


Will Surprise Canyon remain off limits to off-road drivers?
Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts want to reopen the wild road, but environmentalists say no. The fight over the state road is in federal court.
By Lee Romney, Times Staff Writer
November 28, 2006


Five years after it was temporarily closed to off-road enthusiasts who winched their vehicles up its limestone waterfalls, a coveted canyon on Death Valley National Park's western edge has been reclaimed by nature's hand.

Thick willow groves have erased nearly all traces of the washed-out road that once pointed extreme sportsmen to the ruins of a onetime silver boom town. Bighorn sheep appear with greater frequency, conservationists note, and the endangered Inyo California towhee has returned.

But the battle for Surprise Canyon, home of the longest year-round stream in the Panamint Range, has revved up a notch: More than 100 four-wheel-drive aficionados determined to see their prized run reopened have filed a lawsuit in federal court that is being closely watched throughout the West.

The claim relies on a Civil War-era mining law that allowed counties and states to lay routes over federal land. Although the statute, known as RS 2477, was repealed three decades ago, routes established before then were allowed under a grandfather clause. A gravel toll road in Surprise Canyon that fell into public hands before succumbing to flooding is such a route, the lawsuit contends.

Battles over what routes qualify have intensified in recent years across Utah and other Western states, as emboldened counties, off-road enthusiasts and private landholders seek to wrest from federal hands thousands of old rights-of-way, rutted vehicle trails and even cattle paths.

But the Surprise Canyon claim — which demands that the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service immediately reopen the canyon to vehicles — appears to be the first federal court fight over a California route.

Since the Surprise Canyon suit was filed in late August, Inyo and San Bernardino counties have filed separate RS 2477 federal court claims that assert local control over 18 other routes.

Six environmental groups are seeking to intervene in the Surprise Canyon case, hoping to see the canyon permanently closed and to weigh in on the antiquated statute.

"This is a law that was passed a year after Lincoln was assassinated and repealed 30 years ago, and its dead hand is still haunting the protection of our national parks," said Ted Zukoski, a Denver staff attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental groups. "What they are attempting to do is to undermine protection for these beautiful wild areas."

Although Utah "has really been the epicenter of this debate," Zukoski added, "it certainly seems like the California desert is becoming another area where there's a tremendous amount of pressure on this issue."

Brian Hawthorne of the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition, which represents off-road enthusiasts, said the disputes are real and must be resolved to clarify where vehicles are permitted.

Hawthorne said he'd prefer to see the conflicts settled outside court: A New Mexico congressman last month proposed legislation that would allow states or counties to gain title by producing any official map or survey made before 1976. But Hawthorne conceded that passage was unlikely.

"We are looking at a monumental battle over each and every one of these roads," said Hawthorne, whose group has not taken a stance on Surprise Canyon.

Built in 1874, Surprise Canyon Road carried miners to Panamint City. Constant washouts prompted regular rebuilding. But a 1984 flash flood wreaked havoc that no one chose to counter.

Then, in 1989, hard-core off-road enthusiasts stacked boulders and pruned back willows to clear a path for their tricked-out machines, forging a route that at times took them directly through the stream bed and — with the help of steel winch cables — up its seven slick waterfalls. (The road had previously covered the stream, pushing it underground in places, before flooding stripped the canyon to bedrock.)

The California Desert Protection Act in 1994 placed the upper portion of Surprise in Death Valley National Park and designated the Bureau of Land Management portion below as wilderness. But Congress excluded a narrow strip of land around the washed-out road. That made it legally open to off-roaders, and the canyon's cachet grew.

Critics of the riders say they destroyed sensitive riparian habitat of the Panamint daisy and Panamint alligator lizard and spilled oil, gas and antifreeze in the water. The riders counter that they maintained the ghost town buildings and regularly hauled out trash. They also point out that the road had been host to a steady stream of cars for decades.

Off-road use came to a halt in 2001 when, as the result of a settlement in a broader lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the canyon was temporarily closed pending a detailed joint environmental review by both federal agencies. (The current lawsuit demands that the canyon be reopened regardless of the review.)

The 2001 settlement noted that the smattering of property owners up the canyon would be exempted and could request a key to the gate barring access to the road. To the off-road winchers, that smelled like an opportunity.

"What would you do if you wanted to get up there?" asked Joe Stocker, 70, a retired millwright who made dozens of canyon winch runs and is a plaintiff in the new case. "You'd buy land up there."

One property owner sold — to off-road enthusiasts who formed two land partnerships at the heart of the current case. But the Ridgecrest field manager of the Bureau of Land Management denied keys to the new property owners, saying that their access "would result in appreciable disturbance or damage to federal lands and resources." Each was invited instead to apply for a permit. One owner did, to no avail.

The suit demands that the agencies process that application if the RS 2477 claim is not upheld.

With the gate still locked, the new owners turned to RS 2477. The lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia on Aug. 31. Environmental groups filed a motion to intervene earlier this month.

"The canyon's dramatic recovery," they wrote, "could be short-lived if it is again opened to motorized use."

Consequences could be broader: Counties across California and elsewhere have for years passed resolutions claiming control of roadways under RS 2477. They have also filed claims with federal agencies that control the underlying land. But an appellate court ruled last year in a Utah case that only courts could determine the validity of such claims.

The ruling also said courts should look to state law to determine what qualifies as a road under the statute. Utah requires continuous use for a decade. Colorado and other states have much weaker definitions. The Surprise lawsuit may shed some light on the law here.

"It may answer a question in California: What is a road?" said Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming lawyer retained by the off-roaders.

Zukoski, of Earthjustice, said he believes only states and counties have the right to bring RS 2477 claims. But Budd-Falen argues that under California law, public use alone can create a road, without a formal county designation. That means, she says, that the public can also file the claim. A court determination that her clients are entitled to sue could set a precedent, she said.

A Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman in Sacramento said the agency could not comment on the lawsuit but confirmed it is the first RS 2477 court action against the bureau in California.

Alan Stein, deputy district manger for resources at the bureau's California Desert district office, said the designation of a right-of-way would leave open many questions about its scope, how it should be maintained and who gets to decide. "None of it is simple," Stein said.

The National Park Service, meanwhile, finds itself facing three such federal court challenges, two filed by counties last month in California. San Bernardino County's suit asserts a claim to 14 roads in the Mojave National Preserve, placed under federal control 12 years ago by the California Desert Protection Act.

The county maintained the roads, some of which are paved, and relies on them to provide services to residents, said San Bernardino deputy county counsel Charles Scolastico.

Inyo County's suit claims four longtime "county highways" that are now un-maintained dirt roads in Death Valley National Park. Two have been closed — illegally, Inyo County claims.

All roads are in wilderness protected under the 12-year-old desert act.

What the county wants to do with the roads is beside the point, said Ralph "Randy" Keller, Inyo County assistant counsel.

"State law says only the supervisors can close a county highway," he said. "They are county roads under county control and, without even consulting the county, they've been taken. It comes down to an issue of local control."

National Park Service West Coast spokeswoman Holly Bundock said she could not comment on specific litigation, but she added: "We don't invite vehicle access in wilderness areas because that's fundamentally in conflict with the Wilderness Act and our policies on managing the Wilderness Act."
 

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i bet 95% of the people that want surprise canyon and other places closed have never even seen the places they want to close..they have no appreciation for what is beautiful they just want to close it becuase we "destroy" nature (i put it in quotes cause it is complete and utter bullshit). ive have seen more beautiful places in this world than most people and i didnt even have to leave the state of california.. 4wheeling opens doors to people, that a majority can and wont ever experience...
 

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trdtacostand04 said:
i bet 95% of the people that want surprise canyon and other places closed have never even seen the places they want to close..they have no appreciation for what is beautiful they just want to close it becuase we "destroy" nature (i put it in quotes cause it is complete and utter bullshit). ive have seen more beautiful places in this world than most people and i didnt even have to leave the state of california.. 4wheeling opens doors to people, that a majority can and wont ever experience...

i talked to a man once that said he used to be an envromentlist, untill he decided to leave LA and head up to northern califronia. he said that he was amazed at the amount of trees, and all the wildlife, that he thought was being distroyed by humans. he said after his tip up the coast that he is no longer an envromentlist. i believe that eveyone should be aloud to enjoy the beauties of nature, in their own way. Some of the most beautiful areas of this country you can not see from the pavement.
 

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i'm in Cecil County,Md. and we have thousands of acres of state owned land in Fair Hill that is opened only to horse riding and bicycles.they used to let snowmobiles in there in winter but i'm not sure of that anymore.just think of the tax dollars they could get if they opened it to atvs,motorcycles and us.lots of hilly land and forest that paths could be cut through and maintained by money spending offroaders.
 

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Does anyone else feel that the article was anti-offroad? Maybe I skimmed it to fast... but
in 1989, hard-core off-road enthusiasts stacked boulders and pruned back willows to clear a path for their tricked-out machines, forging a route that at times took them directly through the stream bed and — with the help of steel winch cables — up its seven slick waterfalls.
seems pretty much Sierra Club talk to me, there are other areas in the article that seem to slander this sport.


:dunno:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
trdtacostand04 said:
i bet 95% of the people that want surprise canyon and other places closed have never even seen the places they want to close
I, for one, support the reopening of Surprise Canyon. However, I've only seen it in pictures. I've never actually been there...does that somehow diminish or invalidate my support?
 

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In a state that has Barbra Boxer & Diane Feinstein in the Senate and Pelosi in the House, is that really any surprise to you? I could go on and on but I think you get the drift.
 

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Dick Foster said:
In a state that has Barbra Boxer & Diane Feinstein in the Senate and Pelosi in the House, is that really any surprise to you? I could go on and on but I think you get the drift.
The only thing that would surprise me is if you changed from gold to silver.
 

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trdtacostand04 said:
4wheeling opens doors to people, that a majority can and wont ever experience...
Being a disabled person... This rings so true to me...
If I can't use a vehicle to get remotely close to things... I would never be able to do shit and would be forced to stay home and rot in my four walled box...
 

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Humm now there is an idea. Bring a law suit against the NFS, NPS and BLM based on the ADA. Denying recreational access to the disabled. That should actually play pretty well in California. It would paint the enviro weenies and more importantly the Sierra Club as the bad guys they really are.
 

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thats what needs to happen dick, all groups get together and pool resources,and get some things done for all recreational user groups,i do alot of rock climbing and river running, and all the access groups for those activities have now formed a colilition together and got some things done, similar to the blue ribbon,UFWDA,Del and all those guys getting together
 

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theres gotta be a happy medium though. They hit it hard probably unaware of the fact that we aren't all the same. We do a lot to keep these places clean and open. If these places were a little better watched I dont think itd be much of an issue. I would honestly guess that maybe 1 out of 100 people that wheel give a shit about the place they're using. Its sad but its the simple truth. I agree with the environmentalists to a point but they are stereotyping us the same way we are stereotyping them. Thats just not the way to get anything done imho. Im not sure how it is out west but over here it seems 99.9% of the people who wheel make it their goal to fuck up the place as much as possible. I wish they were a little more strict over here so people could pull their heads out of their asses and see what they're doing. If only everyone was as aware as most of us actual wheelers on good ol' ttora.
We have a Hardees in Tellico and the Tn chapter signed on to tread lightly. We are currently getting a good stand for a stack of brochures to go on the counter at the Hardees. Every little bit helps.
 

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I don't know about back there of how much wheeling you do but out here I don't see numbers like that. If anything it's other way around and about 1% are asshats that fuck everything up for the rest.
BTW the big deal purest hikers like the Sierra Club have there share of fucktards too but they rarely if ever want to talk about that. No matter how you're out there or what you're doing, you are gonna have some kind of impact. How much impact is not determined by the type of activity, it's determined by the attitude of the people out there.
 

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Wgasa84 said:
Does anyone else feel that the article was anti-offroad? Maybe I skimmed it to fast... but seems pretty much Sierra Club talk to me, there are other areas in the article that seem to slander this sport.
:dunno:
I agree, I think that is just the Media giving their :2cents:
I think to them they just think well their taking trucks in there they must be doing some kind of damage.
 

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dick I agree with you as well. I know most people here would just want the damn sticker on their car to be cool. But they just get out and fuck shit up. I know when I used to mountain bike a lot of them would tear things up and they did get some trails closed to mountain bikers but not trucks............ seems kinda bass ackwards but oh well. It sucks. If groups like us and/or tread lightly and whoever else could team up and show how much we do to protect these places it would help tremendously, BUT only if the media were to get involved.
 

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and also Im glad those numbers seem backwards out west. Maybe more of them should move east. And also it seems that all of the attention is on the trails out west. There needs to be a little more protecting in the great smoky mountains.
 
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