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Caribou County Idaho v. United States of America

Why We Fight:

The federal government may not close public roads in the rural West that have been used since the days of the pioneers in response to the demands of environmental groups who seek the closure of millions of acres of public land.

Summary:

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management published the Soda Hills Travel Management Plan, which asserts BLM authority over four historically county-controlled roads.

Legal Question:

Whether federal agencies may assert authority over county roads and thereby extinguish valid R.S. 2477 rights-of-way?

Plaintiff:

Caribou County, Idaho

Defendant:

The United States of America

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho
None; On August 2, 2017, the Idaho federal district court closed the case.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Pocatello Field Office manages public lands in Caribou County.  In 1988, it issued the Pocatello Resource Management Plan, which designated the county’s public lands as “limited” and allowed the BLM to restrict the vehicles used on those lands and to enforce seasonal road closures.  In 2004, the BLM constructed gates, purportedly to protect winter habitat, on Idaho Ranch Canyon Road, Ninety Percent Canyon Road, Doe Alley, and Swensen Valley Road in the Soda Hills, despite that they were county roads under R.S. 2477.  The Caribou County attorney advised the BLM in writing that the county had never authorized the BLM to build the gates or close county roads.  The BLM advised that it had authority over the roads based upon a 1999 Idaho Transportation Department map. 

In 2012, the BLM issued a Soda Hills Travel Management Plan and Environmental Assessment and ruled the Soda Hills area crucial winter range for Idaho mule deer, a decision based in part on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Mule Deer Management Plan for 2008–2017.  The 2012 plan called for the gates on the three roads and their closure from November 16 to May 14.  It was the BLM’s first time ever official assertion that it, not Caribou County, has the jurisdiction over the roads.  Despite that claim, the agency admitted in 2011 that “Idaho Ranch and Swenson Valley Roads are county roads administered by Caribou County,” and also admitted that the Ninety Percent Canyon Road “is a county road up to the point of the existing school bus turn-around.”

Local citizens appealed the BLM’s ruling but their administrative appeals to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) were denied and the road closure decision remains in effect.  Caribou County then completed a county validation and asserted authority over the three roads.  On August 20, 2015, Caribou County filed a Quiet Title Act lawsuit against the United States of American to quiet title as to the three disputed roads in favor of Caribou County.  On October 30, 2015, the United States filed a motion to dismiss.  On November 20, 2015, Caribou County filed a First Amended Complaint in response to the motion to dismiss.  On December 18, 2015, the United States answered Caribou County’s First Amended Complaint. On April 12, 2016, the Idaho federal district court entered an order dismissing the motion to dismiss as moot.

On July 31, 2017, Caribou County filed a stipulation for dismissal.  On August 2, 2017, the Idaho federal district court closed the case.

No Status Updates
  • Idaho County Settles Public Road Lawsuit with Federal Agency

    Jul 31, 2017
    In rural Idaho, Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) has battled along-side an Idaho county against a federal agency for years to ensure local citizens’ access to four rural rights-of-way the agency tried to deny. Today MSLF settled the lawsuit, filed in 2015 against the United States, after obtaining access to one of the roads.
  • Idaho County Sues The United States Over Public Roads

    Aug 20, 2015
    An Idaho county that has been in a battle with a federal agency over denial of the public’s access to four rural rights-of-way today sued the United States to confirm its longstanding claims to the roads.


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