September 18, 2014

Feds charge five Utahns in Recapture Canyon protest ride

Recapture » San Juan Commissioner Lyman organized the event in May to protest federal control of public lands

ATV riders cross into a restricted area of Recapture Canyon, north of Blanding, Utah, on Saturday, May 10, 2014, in a protest against what demonstrators call the federal government’s overreaching control of public lands. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Trent Nelson)

By Brian Maffly
The Salt Lake Tribune

Federal authorities are accusing a San Juan County commissioner and a handful of protesters of conspiracy and illegally riding ATVs into southeast Utah’s Recapture Canyon in May.

The Bureau of Land Management closed the canyon to motorized use in 2007 to keep wheels off its many archaeological sites. About 50 riders motored into the canyon following a May 10 rally in Blanding denouncing federal "overreach" and mismanagement of public lands.

But only those suspected of organizing or promoting the illegal ride were targeted in charges announced Wednesday by acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen.

The charges allege that Commissioner Phil Lyman, a Blanding accountant and a vocal critic of BLM policies that inhibit access to public lands, "advertised" the ride through a newspaper article and social media.

"We respect the fact that the citizens of this State have differing and deeply held views regarding the management and use of Recapture Canyon, and recognize that they have the right to express those opinions freely. Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner and when individuals choose to violate the law, rather than engage in lawful protest, we will seek to hold those individuals accountable under the law," Christensen said in a prepared statement.

During the week leading up to the ride, BLM state director Juan Palma warned would-be protesters that their actions could damage cultural sites, which are protected under federal law, and said illegal riders would face legal consequences. Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the canyon until 800 years ago left artifacts, dwellings and graves.

The five defendants, all current or former San Juan County residents, were charged with "operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to vehicles" and conspiracy, offenses that carry up to one year in jail and $100,000 in fines.

None was charged with damaging archaeological sites, but prosecutors said the investigation remains open.

The defendants include Monte Wells, Shane Marian, Franklin Holliday and Jay Redd. The men are ordered to appear Oct. 17 before U.S. Magistrate Evelyn Furse.

Redd, who now lives in Santa Clara, is the son of the late James Redd, the Blanding physician who took his life five years ago after his arrest in an BLM investigation into artifacts trafficking.