In parting gesture, Norton paves way for more roads on federal lands

Yesterday, as a Cruella-De-Ville-esque parting shot, Interior Secretary Gale Norton issued a new policy that enviros warn could allow local and state governments to build hundreds of roads on national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands in the West. At issue is an 1866 law that gave states and counties rights of way across federal lands; the law was repealed in 1976, but allowed claims for already-existing “routes.” Since then, local governments and enviros have sparred over what routes deserve to be maintained as roads, with some local officials claiming that cattle tracks, dry streambeds, and old jeep tracks qualified. Norton’s directive gives Interior officials more freedom to determine which right-of-way claims are legit, and to then let local governments maintain them as roads. That prospect makes greens nervous. Utah wilderness advocate Heidi McIntosh calls the move “classic Gale Norton. It’s like getting punched in the head with a velvet glove.” Adieu, Ms. Norton.