In 2007, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced an emergency closure of motorized access to a five-mile ATV trail located in Recapture Canyon, east of Blanding.
The emergency closure came without warning or public discussion. After an administrative trial, two Blanding residents were fined $35,000 for creating an unauthorized trail.
The BLM said that the trail was closed to protect Native American artifacts that are strewn along the canyon. BLM archeologists concluded that the ATV’s posed risks to the artifacts in the canyon.
San Juan County wished to gain control of the trail so the County Commission filed for a Title V application with the BLM in 2007. The application, if approved, would grant San Juan County responsibility for the trail.
Over the subsequent seven years, the BLM has not made a decision on the Title V application. The lack of decision has further frustrated San Juan County officials.
County Commissioner Bruce Adams mentioned at the May 12 Commission meeting that some Title V applications have a very quick response from the BLM, while others, such as the Recapture Canyon application, have taken a long time.
Commissioner Phil Lyman said that the lack of a clear decision, one way or the other, helped lead to the current situation.
Lance Porter, the District manager for the BLM, said that since he became the District manager in the past year, the BLM has made significant progress on the application in the past six months.
“San Juan County has made several changes in the application over the years,” said Porter. “There has been lots of behind-the-scenes work on the application and we signed a programmatic agreement in November, 2013.”
In a letter to Lyman dated April 28, 2014, Porter asked that the protest ride not take place and stated, “The proposed ride will very likely hinder and possibly delay our ability to complete this process.”
Lyman has said that frustration with the lack of decision led to his decision to sponsor the ATV protest ride into the canyon. The county and the commission were not a sponsor of Lyman’s protest.
As the protest grew near, Lyman proposed that the county withdraw the Title V application in order to apply more pressure on the BLM to make a decision on trail jurisdiction.
Commissioner Adams proposed an alternative route that the county keep the application and use it as evidence for a legal battle.
The commission did not reach a decision in their April 28 meeting, and Lyman pressed forward with plans to carry out the protest ride.
The protest began to gain national attention, due to another federal protest against the government that occurred just a few weeks prior.
In April, BLM officials began gathering cattle as payment for millions of dollars in un-paid grazing fees owed by the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada. Guns were brandished on both sides of the protest, leading to a tense confrontation that ended with the BLM surrendering the cattle.
For many people concerned about the BLM, the ATV ride was viewed as a similar issue of federal involvement in public lands. The local ATV protest eventually grew in profile as protesters from across the country were invited to show up.
BLM officials urged Lyman not to go through with the protest and warned that the BLM “will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties.”
Worries of further potentially violent standoffs caught media attention. Utah Governor Gary Herbert made a statement opposing the protest.
Said Lyman of the event “I know it was my event and I take responsibility for it.”