A county commissioner in southeast Utah is organizing an illegal all-terrain vehicle ride through a river canyon rich in archaeological ruins to protest what he argues is an overbearing federal government.
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said the May 8 ride through Recapture Canyon aims to assert the county's right to access federal lands, while prompting the Bureau of Land Management to reopen it to off-highway vehicles (OHV).
The ride, which Lyman publicized in a recent op-ed in the Deseret News, threatens another Western showdown over states' rights following BLM's failed bid last week to round up several hundred illegal cattle from public lands about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Lyman's ATV ride, which was planned well before the Bundy dust-up, carries a similar theme of a perceived breach of constitutional rights. But it's a dangerous trend, according to conservationists and legal experts who argue public lands are managed by BLM on behalf of all Americans, not just those who live around them.
"It's a freedom that's been taken without our consent," Lyman said in an interview yesterday, noting that the ride is not endorsed by San Juan County. "We have power and jurisdiction to do things independent of BLM."
On his Facebook page, Lyman takes a more revolutionary tone.
"As we approach independence day, let us contemplate what it means to be free and what we are willing to do to ensure that our children and their children inherit a free and flourishing San Juan County," he wrote March 2. "Remember that our revolutionary forefathers did not declare war, they declared independence, the war was only a consequence."
May 8 was chosen to commemorate the day that federal agents raided Blanding, Utah, homes in 1986 to confiscate what were believed to be illegally looted American Indian artifacts.
Lyman said he and others are willing to be arrested or cited for the ride. But sources say there's little chance BLM will arrest violators. The agency is more likely to take names and turn them over to federal attorneys.
Such appeared to be the case in 2009, when hundreds of OHV riders illegally rode up the muddy Paria River that BLM had closed to vehicles in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
Lyman said he's been told BLM will not arrest people for riding Recapture, but he's worried that the agency could take a more aggressive approach after being forced to back down in the Bundy roundup.
"It doesn't matter if you're an environmentalist, industrialist, rancher or county commissioner, public lands don't belong to any single person or entity. They belong to us all," said Ross Lane, director of the government watchdog group Western Values Project. (emphasis mine)