Groups of outdoor enthusiasts rode their ATVs and motorcycles on illegal trails in Utah as a protest against the federal government overextending their control over the land. Rick Eldredge, a representative from the San Juan County Police Department, stated that the protests were perpetuated by a group 40-50 people, most of whom were wielding American flags and some were armed with weapons. On Saturday, the protestors drove a mile down Recapture Canyon and, once they were near Blanding, they turned around. U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) law enforcement personnel and 30 deputies watched as protesters sped past a closure sign and down the canyon located about 300 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
The organizer of the ATV protests on the illegal Utah trails and San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said his intention was to demonstrate that the federal agency is not the sole authority, and residents have the right to have their opinions heard. Lyman told reporters that he, and his fellow protestors, are not proponents of breaking the law, but that just because BLM owns the property, they do not own the “right-of-way that exists.”
Recapture Canyon is protected due its wealth of dwellings, artifacts, and burials from Ancestral Puebloans 2,000 years ago. That is why the federal government made that region illegal for the public. The protestors may have unknowingly damaged the relics in the region. BLM Utah State Director Juan Palma stated that the artifacts and dwellings in the area are invaluable and tell the story of the first inhabitants of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. He also issued warning that the BLM is pursuing investigations into the illegal protests to make sure that the lawbreakers are held accountable. The BLM explained that in the Monticello district there are 2,800 miles of trails and roads open to the public, and only 14.3 miles of trail are closed in Recapture Canyon. The BLM has stated that their first priority now is the identification of those who trespassed into the forbidden area.
However, San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge told the Associated Press that the ATV protests were peaceful, and there were no problems whatsoever between them and the police department. Lyman emphasized during the creation of the protest that maintaining peace during the rally was a priority. He stated that any unruly behavior will reflect poorly on the purpose for the protests in the illegal Utah trails. Lyman did describe his worries for the protests, illustrating that he grew up in Blanding and that in his efforts to make the area more accessible, he potentially could have turned Recapture Canyon into an epicenter of conflict, and that the notion of that is “very,very painful.”
Among those in attendance was Ryan Bundy, who recently had a altercation with BLM after they rounded up the Bundy’s cattle for trespassing. Individuals from Montana, Missouri, and Wyoming traveled to attend the ATV protests on the illegal Utah trails. Bundy and others urged Lyman to display more aggression towards the BLM. Lyman attempted to make it clear to the protestors that there are sections of Recapture Canyon that should be forbidden to the public due to their fragility and wealth of history.
By Andres Loubriel