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Feds reviewing BLM evidence from ATV protest ride

Published May 11, 2009 8:55 pm

Paria River » Agents seen taking pictures of vehicles, license numbers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Photographs, recordings and other documentation of a weekend protest ride up southern Utah's off-limits Paria River have been referred to the U.S. attorney's office.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management coordinated with the attorney's office before the much-publicized protest, BLM spokeswoman Lola Bird said Monday.

BLM agents jotted down license numbers, photographed riders and recorded potential violations from the ride, which drew about 500 to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kane County.

That evidence now has been "formally" handed over to U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman. His spokeswoman, Melodie Rydalch, declined to comment Monday.

Kanab resident and protest organizer Shawna Cox said agents took pictures of the licence plates on the 300 or so all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles on the riverbed as well as the plates on vehicles parked near the old Paria town site.

"We felt like that was pretty low. We thought we were living in a communist country," she said. "We weren't [doing] anything dangerous. People should stand up for their rights."

The corridor, which winds through the Paria-Hackberry wilderness study area and a river the BLM says boasts wild and scenic qualities, has been out of bounds to riders since 2000. But the agency hasn't curbed illegal motorized use and even tacitly green-lighted it in a document published two years ago.

In that 2007 report, the BLM noted the monument plan prohibited motorized access in the Paria River and Sheep Creek -- along with their side canyons. But because Kane and Garfield counties had sued over access, the BLM said, monument managers would seek "voluntary" compliance. "Visitors choosing not to participate in the voluntary closure should follow 'Leave-No-Trace' and 'Tread Lightly' practices to minimize potential negative impacts to resources," the 2007 publication says.

An April 13 federal appeals court ruling against Kane County reasserted the plan carries the force of law, so the BLM notified county officials that enforcement of the closure soon would begin.

Off-roaders, who say they have been driving up the Paria River for years, rallied to protest the government decision. With Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw and Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, egging them on, the riders Saturday defiantly splashed up the river.

"We're mad as hell and aren't going to take [it] anymore," Habbeshaw announced through a bullhorn before the riders took off.

"They tell us this has never been a road and it's never been open. I'm here to say that's an absolute lie," said Noel, a former BLM employee. "We've got less access to our public lands than we've ever had before."

The monument boasts nearly 900 miles of open travel routes, with about 600 miles explicitly designated for motorized vehicles.