He disputed environmentalists' charge that many of the roads aren't roads at all, but rather single-use Jeep trails on dry creek beds that could never pass as the "highways" mentioned in law.
"We will not be paving deer trails," Swallow said, but merely maintaining historic uses.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has alleged that many of the roads are impassable and always were for standard vehicles, and that the state's real motive is to put roads on maps through potential wilderness areas.
SUWA attorney Heidi McIntosh repeated those assertions Tuesday and questioned whether actual use justifies taxpayer costs that are sure to pile up. After all, courts have ruled that the state has to prove each road claim one by one.
"Thousands of these controversial claimed 'highways' were created, if at all, by random use and by now long-forgotten prospectors, cowboys and wanderers," she said. "Some were created in the course of mineral extraction, used once and then abandoned. But because there may be a mark or track on the ground, the state is now trying to claim legal right to them."
State officials acknowledged that a few roads may prove to be mistakes, just as SUWA has said it has no issue with some others. But Swallow said the state, facing a June statute of limitations for filing these lawsuits, couldn't wait to negotiate.
"We are forced to take our legal remedy," he said, "and go to court."
Harry Souvall, chief of the public lands section in the Utah Attorney General's Office, said roads existing in wilderness study areas those places considered and managed as wilderness-worthy but not as-yet congressionally designated should be recognized and be carved out as "cherry stems." The rest, he said, could still qualify as wilderness.
"It's been said this is an effort to defeat wilderness," he said. "It is not. It's simply to get wilderness to recognize roads that were on the ground."