2003-2004: Wyoming Law Protects Public Lands from
Bogus Highway Claims
In Wyoming, an October 2003 state Supreme Court ruling
may limit the ability of RS 2477 proponents to press cattle tracks,
wash bottoms, and hiking trails as 'constructed public highways' under
the 1866 law. That's because in 1919, the Wyoming legislature rebelled
against a prior state Supreme Court opinion that said anyone could
create a highway. Worried about the broad implications of that ruling,
the legislature passed a law in 1919 that a route cannot be a
'highway' for RS 2477 purposes unless it was officially adopted by the
county through a resolution adopting the route as a county highway.
The Wyoming Supreme Court's October 2003 ruling
affirmed the meaning of the 1919 law: " The legislative intent behind
this  statute is clear from its plain language: The various
boards of county commissioners were to officially establish and record
all roads necessary or important for the public use. The last sentence
clearly states that no other roads were to be considered
highways unless and until the respective board of county commissioners
had lawfully established them as such." Emphasis in original. The
Court stated further: "We hold that the 1919 statute effectively
vacated the public status of any road, including those established
pursuant to RS 2477, which were not recorded and established by the
pertinent board of county commissioners."
Read the full text of the opinion.
On March 16, 2004, a federal judge in Wyoming cited the
state Supreme Court ruling described above, finding that an RS 2477
claim involving the Erramouspe Road in Sublette County, Wyoming, is
Read a newspaper account
of the hearing and the
2004: State House May Attempt to Repeal Protection for Public Lands.
Unhappy with the State Supreme Court's interpretation of the 1919 law
that limits counties' ability to claim trails and jeep tracks as
"constructed highways," one state legislator has vowed to try to
modify the 75-year-old law.
Read the lead article in the November 23, 2004, Sublette Examiner.
If adopted, such a bill could turn trails into real highways through
some of Wyoming's - and the nation's -- crown jewels, including
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the Wind River Range, and
the Red Desert.