Juab County has assumed responsibility for strictly regulating ATV use in the Deep Creek Mountains under a consent decree settling its long-standing road dispute with the Bureau of Land Management.
The decree, signed last week by U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell, memorializes an agreement the county and state of Utah reached with the federal government and three environmental groups to resolve the question of who controls three primitive routes up canyons on the West Desert range's east slope.
While Juab County got much of what it wanted, namely ownership of old dead-end routes that BLM had closed to protect the Deep Creeks' natural values, the victory came with plenty of strings and trade-offs.
The county, for example, adopted ordinances banning ATVs from leaving the routes' alignments and closing them in the winter and spring.
It also agreed not to seek title to any other routes inside the 69,000-acre wilderness study area encompassing the "island" range towering over the Great Basin.
County Commission chairman Chad Winn could not be reached Wednesday.
While the settlement is limited to just three routes covering less than 25 miles, the state has framed it as a possible "template" for resolving other quiet-title disputes over thousands of road segments crossing federal land.
Under the repealed 19th century law known as RS 2477, the state and at least 20 Utah counties are suing the feds to gain title to almost any route believed to have been open to public use prior to 1976, alleging they qualify as county highways.
The Deep Creeks accord marks the first settlement in this tsunami of litigation, expected to take years and millions in taxpayer dollars to resolve. The settlement is the fruit of a negotiated compromise in which the county gave up portions of the rights-of-way it sought, while environmentalists agreed to limited motorized use in a wilderness study area.
"I am very pleased that all the parties involved were able to work together to resolve this issue and settle this lawsuit in a way that promotes public interests and protects the resources on our public lands," said Juan Palma, BLM's Utah state director.
The routes in question climb Trout Creek, Granite Creek and Tom's canyons. With the judge's signature on the decree, the public may once again drive a few miles up Granite Creek to a clearing called Camp Ethel long used as a community gathering place but not travel beyond it. BLM will monitor the health of this creek, as well as the canyons to determine whether motorized use is taking a toll on these fragile desert lands.
While the county may repair the routes, it agreed to not pave or widen them. It must provide the BLM three days notice prior to any grading and take "all reasonable steps to not disturb adjacent public lands."
BLM retains the right to use signage, fencing, gates and on-site presence to ensure motorized visitors stick to the roads. Enforcement, however, rests with the county. Sheriff's deputies are expected to patrol the roads during high-use weekends and holidays.