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Three Facts About “The Next BLM Showdown” and This Weekend’s Illegal All-Terrain Vehicle Ride Through Utah’s “Mini-Mesa Verde”

This coming Saturday, May 10th, a Utah county commissioner and other all-terrain vehicle (ATV) users are planning to illegally ride their ATVs through Utah’s Recapture Canyon, an area that is home to priceless and sensitive American Indian archaeological and cultural resources. The ride is intended to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) closure of the area to ATVs, which occurred because of previous damage to sacred American Indian sites caused by ATV drivers.

The Denver Post has called the situation at Recapture Canyon “the next BLM showdown” and “a long-standing but escalating anti-federal government, Cliven Bundyesque furor.” While the Denver Post reports that, at this point, the BLM has decided to stand back and avoid a confrontation, it remains to be seen how the ride will play out and who will show up.

Here are the facts about Recapture Canyon and the continued lawlessness that fringe conservatives are resorting to in order to make a point about their grievances with the federal government:


1. Recapture Canyon was closed to ATVs because riders illegally constructed a trail and vandalized American Indian resources.

  • The BLM “closed the canyon to motorized use in 2007 to protect its American Indian ruins and other archaeological resources after an illegally constructed trail was discovered there.”
  • Sections of the illegal trail “ran right through 1,000-year-old Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, bisecting one prehistoric village the size of a football field.”
  • In San Juan County, there is a history of residents vandalizing artifacts and selling them for profit. A major grave-robbing ring in the area, for example, was arrested in 2009 for looting and selling American Indian artifacts.
  • The BLM manages thousands of miles of roads and trails in Utah that are open to ATV use.


2. The leader of the ride—San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman—does not recognize the authority of federal government to make decisions to protect cultural resources for the benefit of the public.

  • According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Lyman “says the planned ride aims to assert county jurisdiction in the face of federal ‘overreach.’”
  • Lyman’s alleged assertion of “county jurisdiction” conflicts with the concerns of local Navajo leaders, who have deep historic and cultural ties to Recapture Canyon.
  • The penalties for violating trail closures can range up to a $1,000 fine and 12 months in jail. Yet, Lyman believes the ride is not a violation of the law because he sees the closure of Recapture Canyon as an “arbitrary” decision.


3. Lyman is the latest Cliven Bundy copycat to surface, but he, too, is far outside the mainstream of Western views.

  • This summer, the Southwest Idaho Mining Association is planning to illegally run mining equipment into the Salmon River in order to “remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from the state.”
  • Some right-wing groups and elected officials continue to believe that the federal government should not be managing public lands and want their states to seize them.
  • Public opinion research has found that Westerners deeply value their public lands and do not subscribe to the views of Bundy, Lyman, or others who wish to seize or sell-off public lands. For example, the February 2014 Colorado College “State of the Rockies” poll found 72 percent of Westerners – and 63 percent of Utahn’s – are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the deficit.

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