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The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday dealt a major blow to Utah wilderness groups fighting over who owns a handful of back roads in rural Kane County.

In its decision, the Denver court ruled the Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) lacked "prudential standing to sue" over the roads because the groups do not have property rights to the roads.

"The reason we went to court was because the [Bureau of Land Management] wasn't doing anything to protect the monuments," said Heidi McIntosh, SUWA's associate director. "Now, with this ruling, it's really up to the BLM to step up to the plate."

The long-running dispute centers on a Civil War-era mining law, known as R.S. 2477, that granted rights-of-way across public land until it was repealed by congress in 1976. Existing rights-of-way, however, were grandfathered in.

In March 2003, Kane County officials requested the BLM remove road signs closing some routes in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, igniting the debate and years of litigation.

SUWA and the Wilderness Society have fought to protect a number of those primitive tracks.

The court's two dissenting judges wrote that only allowing the dominant property owner — the United States — to sue over such matters stripped citizens of a voice on the issue.

"When coupled with the inescapable truth that in the past R.S. 2477 rights have been falsely claimed over dry creek beds, horse and hiking trails, and jagged rock outcroppings," one dissenting judge wrote, "the resulting anarchy and chaos in the national parks, national monuments, and federal public lands lying within this circuit is profound."