BLANDING, Utah – Tension is growing over the federal government’s management of public lands in Utah.
More than 200 protesters mounted their ATVs this weekend and some took an illegal ride into San Juan County’s Recapture Canyon, where motor vehicles are banned.
Recapture Canyon is protected by the Bureau of Land Management for its environmental and archaeological treasures.
A protester said, “I’ve been back in here when I was in high school with my flat fender back in through here. And I know we’ve been here forever and then for a governmental agency to just acquire it and take it over and say it’s not yours anymore. That’s really frustrating.”
Organizers say there were no arrests or confrontations during the protest.
There were two kinds of riders in the canyon; those who rode their ATVs on the legal portions of the trail and those who chose to ride on a BLM-banned portion.
Cade Lewis said, “That’s what we’re here for, is to do the hard things and stand up and do what’s right and tell the federal government we’ve had enough.”
A rally before the ride, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman urged people to obey the rules, to avoid confrontation and bad publicity from the ride’s real message.
Lyman said, “The whole point of this was to get this in the public eye and the court of public opinion and the last thing I want to do is compromise all the good work that has happened up to this point.”
Michael Swenson, with the Utah Shared Access Alliance, said, “The message here is that we’re frustrated and there’s a problem and the federal government is doing nothing to solve it. But at the same time, we’re not bad actors. We’re not looking to cause problems. We’re not looking for violence.”
The rally also attracted armed militia members from other states showed up.
Cliven Bundy’s son, Ryan, and his family rode their ATVs into the banned area.
He says staying in the BLM-designated area doesn’t make any sense.
Ryan Bundy said, “Doing that accomplishes absolutely nothing. It basically shows cowardice to the federal government. It shows cowardice to the Bureau of Land Management. If we’re here to make a stand, then by heaven’s sake, let’s make a stand.”
From a police standpoint, Sheriff Rick Eldridge says the event was orderly.
Deputies from three surrounding counties were on hand to keep the peace, not enforce BLM rules.
Sheriff Eldridge, with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, said, “Any citations, if they’re going to be issued, they’ll be by the BLM. They’re the ones that closed the road.”
The BLM says it had people in the canyon documenting people who was going where on the trail.
In a statement, the BLM says it plans to hold the lawbreakers accountable.