County Official Defies Federal Agency Authority in Recapture Canyon

Cliff dwelling in Recapture Canyon, copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA.
Cliff dwelling in Recapture Canyon, copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA.

Last Saturday, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led dozens of anti-federal government protesters driving off-road vehicles (ORVs) past signs prohibiting ORV use into Recapture Canyon.  Although there are approximately 4,000 miles of designated routes open to ORV use on public lands in San Juan County (2,820 miles managed by the Monticello BLM and another 1,000 miles managed by the Moab BLM), Commissioner Lyman said he was leading the illegal ORV ride to protest the “jurisdictional creep” of the federal government and the notion that the BLM “arbitrarily shut down a road in San Juan County.”  (See LA Times article, Invoking local rights, Utah protesters cross into federal land.)

Far from an arbitrary action, BLM’s 2007 closure of the trail to motorized vehicles was based on evidence that the illegally constructed ORV trail and subsequent ORV use was causing adverse effects to the prehistoric cultural resources in and near the trail.

Tilting at Windmills

The illegal event in Recapture Canyon is but another result of the misguided “take back federal lands” rhetoric spewed by a small cadre of western elected officials.  Their crusade has no legal or historical basis and reflects an extreme view not shared by the majority of westerners (see recent “Conservation in the West” poll).  Nevertheless, Utah’s governor and other elected officials are happy to continue fanning the flames of the radical right in their aimless pursuit of this quixotic goal.  Commissioner Lyman’s actions, taken with complete disregard for irreplaceable prehistoric cultural resources, are a perfect example of why state and local officials should not be entrusted with our public lands legacy.

BLM Must Prosecute and Not Reward Illegal Behavior

Commission Lyman’s statements to the media that “[i]t feels great” after riding into the closed area illustrates a complete disrespect for both federal law and the Native Americans who continue to honor the cultural values of the canyon today.  The Commissioner’s actions, in defiance of the BLM’s ORV Closure Order and in disregard of laws enacted to protect our cultural heritage, must not go unpunished.  Most importantly, BLM must continue to protect the resources of Recapture Canyon and not cave to political pressure to give San Juan County a right-of-way for the illegally constructed route.

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