On the eve of a controversial ride protesting an ATV ban in Recapture Canyon, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah director of the Bureau of Land Management urged possible participants to follow the law.
“I encourage everyone to uphold the law and not do anything that could disrupt public safety,” Herbert said in a Friday afternoon statement.
The BLM closed its Monticello office on Friday and sent employees home to forestall any possible confrontation with people arriving from out of town for the protest ride, said Lance Porter, the BLM’s Canyon County district manager.
The statements from Herbert and the BLM come after an agency wrangler was threatened at gunpoint on Tuesday as he drove on Interstate 15 in Juab County. As a precaution, some area BLM employees have removed logos from their vehicles,
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s recent armed standoff with the BLM has raised concern that some of his supporters could travel to Blanding for the Recapture Canyon protest.
Utah BLM Director Juan Palma said Friday the federal agency regrets “that the illegal ATV ride appears to be going forward,” putting ancient cultural sites at risk of being destroyed or damaged.
He repeated an earlier warning that participants will face consequences for breaking any laws on BLM lands.
“As always, our first and most important priority will be the safety of the public and our employees, and our actions will reflect that,” he added.
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and other Blanding residents say they are staging Saturday’s ride in the canyon as a way to assert local jurisdiction over public lands that their families have used for generations. The canyon was closed to motorized vehicles in 2007, after the construction of an illegal trail damaged archeological sites.
The county’s application to reopen the canyon to ATVs has been pending for years.
“I understand there has been a great deal of frustration with the amount of time it has taken for the Bureau of Land Management to issue a decision on Recapture Canyon,” Herbert’s statement said. “My office is working closely with the new BLM director, Neil Kornze, and Utah BLM Director Juan Palma to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.”
Lyman, who describes the ride as a “peaceful and intelligent action,” originally proposed driving the entire seven-mile stretch closed to motorized use. He now plans to ride in and out on a 1.5-mile stretch on the canyon’s north end. In a Facebook post, he is directing participants to established trails on the canyon rim if they want to avoid violating the BLM’s rules.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office will have deputies at the canyon Saturday “to keep the peace and protect the Constitutional rights of everyone involved,” its Facebook page said. “We feel this will be a peaceful event and encourage everyone to be respectful to one another and allow individuals to exercise their First Amendment right.”
The BLM has said it has no plans to beef up its local two-person law enforcement contingent.
The threatened BLM wrangler was driving with a trailer of horses and burros on Tuesday when two men in a dark blue Dodge 1500 extended-cab pickup pulled up alongside him. One man held up a sign that read, “You need to die,” and pointed a handgun at him.
The men had covered the license plate of their pickup with duct tape, BLM officials have said. In the wake of the incident, non-law-enforcement employees in the West Desert district of the agency removed logos from their vehicles.
Tribune reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this report.