Building roads on federal land: "We're open for business."

| Thu Mar. 23, 2006 3:12 PM EST

Via the LA Times: Gale Norton, who leaves office next week, closes her tenure with a characteristic flourish:

Guidelines issued by Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton on Wednesday will make it easier for counties to lay claim to old trails and closed roads they would like to open across federal lands in the West, including national parks in Southern California.

In one of her final actions before leaving her post next week, Norton issued a policy dealing with right-of-way claims under a Civil War-era law that county officials in several Western states have tried to use to circumvent federal land-use restrictions on motorized access.

Norton's memo gives Interior officials nationwide latitude to grant rights of way to counties and other claimants and even approve road construction and improvements.

...But environmentalists said the secretary's guidelines amounted to an invitation to counties and other entities to claim everything from hiking trails to dry stream beds and start using them as roads.

"The barriers to [these] claims have been lowered to practically nothing," said Ted Zukoski, a Denver-based attorney with Earthjustice who was involved in a major court case on the matter. "The bar is so low that it has the effect of telling everyone: 'We're open for business. Make a claim.' "

For more on the Bush administration's dogged efforts to run roads through federal parkland, see, for starters, here and here, and here.