Blanding: OHV riders, militia protest BLM, ride through Recapture Canyon; STGnews Photo Gallery (UPDATED)

Gathering for protest against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014, 9 a.m. | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News

BLANDING – More than 200 people gathered in Centennial Park in Blanding Saturday morning, giving public outcry to the Bureau of Land Management for its restriction against off-highway vehicle use of trails through nearby Recapture Canyon.  After rallying, the group took their protest  mobile through the canyon, ignoring the prohibition, without any resistance from authorities present.

The BLM closed the canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 with the stated purpose of protecting ancient cultural sites and artifacts. Conflicts over the restriction have continued since the closure and, most recently, in December 2013, the BLM invited public comment on a right-of-way application made by San Juan County for a trail system through the canyon. According to the BLM’s webpage on the proposed project, last updated Wednesday, an environmental assessment of the proposal is being prepared, although no completion date is specified.

San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman addresses protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News
San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman addresses protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who led Saturday’s protest, said he had tried to get the BLM to come out and negotiate, but they hadn’t done that.

As militia and others gathered, some with guns on hips and some carrying the “Don’t Tread on Me” yellow flag, rock band Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blared in the park. Special interest groups were represented, and San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldridge was there to keep the peace, he said, along with sheriffs from four or five other counties.

There was no visible presence of BLM officers at the protest, St. George News columnist Dallas Hyland said from Blanding. The BLM later issued a statement indicating its officers were present and observing the activity; that statement is included below.

Although the protest was supported by some who also participated in the April resistance to BLM enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, Saturday’s protest ride in Blanding may not have been inspired by Bundy.

Stefnee Turk, representing the San Juan Alliance, told Hyland that this protest ride was in the works before the incident at Bunkerville occurred. She said the militia presence was not necessarily invited, Hyland said.

Nonetheless, armed militia members were plentiful Saturday morning, some of whom had been at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville. The Nevada rancher’s son Ryan Bundy was present with his wife and children. Ryan Bundy had a box of small booklets of the U. S. Constitution with him that he was autographing and distributing at the rally.

Lyman showed support for the Bundys, giving them a welcome and taking care to say that violence was not wanted at the protest.

Curtis Yanito representing the Navajo nation addresses protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News
Curtis Yanito representing the Navajo nation addresses protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News

Whose land is it?

In a rally that sought to challenge the authority of the federal government over the land in question, those addressing the crowd had differing ideas about whom it belongs to.

Steve Curry, of the Citizens Action Network, drew analogy to Bunkerville. He said:

We took Nevada back for the people with the BLM on the defensive and we put the BLM on the defensive. I think Utah now; we are going to take Utah back.

Curtis Yanito was there representing himself and the Navajo Nation. Yanito was born and raised in San Juan County and appealed to the crowd to help the Navajo Nation. He said:

Hey, if you win in this fight against the government, you’ve gotta help us, too, to get our land back.

But Yanito also said:

When you people refer to this land as ‘yours’ or you use the word ‘mine,’ we don’t have that word in our language; we say ‘Mother Earth.’

The main point Ryan Bundy made was that he wanted everybody to quit using the term “federal land,” Hyland said; that that term does not exist. Ryan Bundy said:

These lands do not belong to the public of the United States; they belong to the people of San Juan County. I am not from San Juan County, I am just a visitor. I came here to open a road. If they’re not going to open a road then I’m going home.

The protest ride

The protest ride proceeded to the canyon through a handful of different points of access, Hyland said, with protesters riding OHVs, ATVs and even horses. Eldridge had said he was there to keep the peace, Hyland said, so he questioned the sheriff about the protesters breaking the law:

“Aren’t they breaking the law?”

“Yes, they’re breaking federal law but not county law.”

“Isn’t the county sheriff beholden to federal law?”

“I’m beholden to federal law.”

“You’re keeping the peace as people break federal law?”

Hyland said the sheriff  laughed and turned his horse up-trail and rode off with his deputy.

In a statement issued by BLM Utah State Director Juan Palma Friday, he said: “The BLM-Utah will seek appropriate penalties against anyone who willfully violates the law.”

If any citations were going to be issued in connection with Saturday’s protest ride, Eldridge said, they would have come from the BLM, not his office. The Monticello Office of the BLM, which manages Recapture Canyon, has two rangers and was closed on Saturday.

Palma later issued the following statement Saturday:

Regrettably, after a peaceful rally in Blanding, Utah, a number of individuals broke the law by driving ATVs through Recapture Canyon, where ancient artifacts and dwellings may have been damaged by the riders.

As always, our first and most important priority is the safety of the public and our employees, and our actions today reflect that. The BLM’s law enforcement presence today focused on recording and documenting individuals who chose to violate the law by traveling into the closure area on ATVs.

We know from the archaeological record left behind in Recapture Canyon that the area was previously occupied for at least 2,000 years. Illegal ATV use within Recapture Canyon may have damaged many of these archaeological resources—all of which hold the history and tell the story of the first farmers in the Four Corners region.

The BLM was in Recapture Canyon today collecting evidence and will continue to investigate. The BLM will pursue all available redress through the legal system to hold the lawbreakers accountable.

BLM and Recapture Canyon

Conflict over the use of Recapture Canyon has been ongoing for at least seven years, since the BLM closed the area to OHV use.

Andrew Gulliford, professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, wrote in a February 2014 article for High County News about a scar seven miles long, four feet wide, running through the canyon east of Blanding. He said:

Sections of the trail ran right through 1,000-year-old Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, bisecting one prehistoric village the size of a football field – all this in a place that archaeologists have described as a ‘mini-Mesa Verde.’

Gulliford criticized the BLM in his February article, noting that the same trail, which had once been the subject of a criminal investigation, was then subject to a request by the BLM for public comment, made in December 2013, on San Juan County’s right-of-way application to reopen the trail.

The right-of-way proposed an ATV system consisting of 14.25 miles of trails, three trailheads and signage.The design of the proposed action is primarily for an ATV trail system but motorcycles, mountain bikes, equestrian use and hiking would also be allowed, according to the BLM’s Environmental Assessment Bulletin Board, last updated May 7. Environmental Assessment is pending, according to the bulletin board. See the proposed trail system design here: Proposed Trail System Map – Construction – BLM Recapture Canyon May 7 2014.

There are more than 2,800 miles of trails on public lands that are open to ATV use within a short drive of Blanding, the BLM said in a release Friday; in other words, the approximate distance between New York City and Los Angeles. This extensive trail system offers OHV riders vast and diverse opportunities to ride and recreate on public lands in southeastern Utah.

In order to protect the rich archaeological record left by the Ancestral Puebloans, who called this area home for nearly two millennia, the trail was closed to motorized access in 2007. The BLM is committed to constructively addressing competing resource demands on public lands in the area and will continue to engage with the county and other stakeholders.

Public lands managed by the BLM in Utah contribute significantly to the state’s economy, the BLM said in its released statement, and have a positive impact on nearby communities. Diverse recreational activities on BLM-managed lands in Utah provided $490 million in local and national economic benefits in 2012.

This gallery will be updated with more photos. Refresh post later.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

UPDATED 5:30 p.m. to include BLM statement issued Saturday after the protest ride.

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  • Ken May 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Plain to see that the “sheriff” picks and chooses what laws he will enforce. I think he is nothing more then a spineless coward. His and any other LEO’s there should be stripped of their badges. So why don’t these “patriots” go ride their ATV’s on the State Capitol lawns, it’s “our” lands? They could take the spineless sheriff with them!

  • Burton May 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I hope the protest four wheeler ride over in san juan goes safe and the feds and BLM are starting to understand that the people paying the taxes for all this so-called “public lands” are tired of the federal government and all its agencies closing off these lands to the people who are paying for it. I stand with Rep. Chris Stewart calling on congress to disarm these federal agencies. Why again exactly does the EPA, and BLM need assault weapons? That’s what the local sheriffs are for. There is not a square inch of land in this country that isn’t regulated and protected by county sheriffs and their deputies. Of course as we seen in Clark county not all sheriffs are created equal. Sherriff Gillespie did absolutely nothing to protect the citizens of his community when yet another rogue federal agency overstepped their boundaries. The so-called BLM land and federal land should be handed over to the states to legislate and regulate the lands the way they feel fit. Let the states decide how to utilize the natural resources the way they want. You see, what most people don’t realize (because most people havent read the United States Constitution) is the federal government was never supposed to own vast amounts of land. I understand National Parks, Monuments and things of that sort. But not millions of acres just to block the states from getting any monetary benefit from it.

    Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.

    Thomas Jefferson

    Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law,” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

    Thomas Jefferson

    These aren’t my quotes they are a great Americans and one of the greatest minds to bless this country. President Thomas Jefferson. You guys should read about him!

  • Burton May 10, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I will get this going! Iron county just needs to be quiet. Who cares that there isn’t enough grass for the free ranging cattle to graze on. Even though all those ranchers paid their fees. Who cares that wildlife populations have declined due to the over population of the beautiful mustangs (feral horses). The BLM knows best and will “Manage” that land the way they feel fit. Or at least until senator Ried or Hatch or some other political puke can figure out a way they can make a fortune on that land too. Then they will send their puppet Neil Kornze (Head of the BLM and Harry Rieds ex political advisor) to go take care of the horsey problem. And get rid of the cattle too. The BLM is another pathetic attempt at the federal government trying to manage something. The federal government couldn’t manage a snow cone shack. Turn the land over to the states and let us legislate and regulate our own lands our own way! And I know all you government loving morons will have something cute to say, but you name one federal agency that is managed well and isn’t broke!? Social Security administration, Post office, Medicare/Medicaid? Name one? I know, How bout the IRS!

    • Griffyote May 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

      I can name a hundred times the number of capitalist corporations that went bankrupt and did not pay their bills as I can government agencies!

      • Burton May 11, 2014 at 11:29 am

        Your definitely right about corporations going under. But for the most part (except when the federal government bails out private corporations with hard working citizens tax dollars) those companies disappear. But not the government agencies and programs! Even when they run out of money they just continue to spend this country into oblivion on agencies and programs that are not effective. When you and I run out of money we stop buying things. $17 trillion in the hole and counting on worthless agencies just like the BLM.

        • guest May 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm

          The BLM is anything but a worthless agency. They manage millions of acres and priceless natural and cultural resources for multiple values and uses. They generate billions on behalf of the people of the United States and preserve national treasures for future generations. They will never get the balance correct in any one individual’s eyes because we as a nation have diverse values, the BLM has limited funding and there are always the extreme pressures from those with money and power who want to exploit and privatize public resources.

          • Burton May 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm

            So let me guess? Guest is a BLM agent right? How come there are so many historical sites and natural treasures that have been preserved in the east with no BLM presence then?

        • Guest May 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm

          Not a BLM agent – you don’t have to be employed by an agency to know the law has to be enforced and that our country and it resources are more important than motorized recreation in a county that has plenty of alternatives available.

          But where do you get the idea that are so many native American sites that have been protected in the east. Most of them are long gone and the ones that are being discovered or preserved now are only because of Federal laws like those that the BLM and every other federal agencies are mandated to enforce for the benefit of the whole country.

  • Mark May 10, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Perfect time to go get the tax cheat in Bunked up ville.

  • trox May 10, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    When is the law going to be enforced? Why isn’t the Feds backing the law of the people and protecting our treasured trust? These yahoos are not going be to happy until there is a gun fight…

  • Kevin Johnson May 10, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I grew up in the mountains of Monticello and Blanding.
    I rode both dirt bikes and horses on these exact roads and trails.
    There has been more DAMAGE to so called artifacts by the affects of the recapture dam and reservoir.
    Than a hundred thousand riders could cause in the next hundred years.
    This is a CONTROL issue pure and simple

    • guest May 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      “so-called artifacts” ???

      I’m sorry that no one educated you properly and that you never appreciated where you were and what you were doing. At this point there is no excuse.

      When Recapture Dam and Reservoir was being built, I’m sure there was a process in place by the BLM to address the impacts. Probably not to the satisfaction of everyone, I’m sure, but a procedure and a legal process that took into account multiple values and interests.

      Most of us grow up and understand that we don’t always get our way, we don’t always get to play where we want to and there are things that are more important than our narrow interests and are worth protecting for everyone else. If you don’t understand that that some level of control by those who have legally mandated protection responsibilities is necessary in life or civil society, you haven’t gotten past adolescence.

  • chas holman May 10, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I hope the BLM took LOTS of pictures and wrote down plates, followed a few home for ‘later’.

    This is a fragile area, one I take my own family to. I can only imagine being there and 200 armed terrorists suddenly are riding around like a bad 60’s biker movie,.

    • Griffyote May 10, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      Absolutely agree with chas Holman . Is there any difference between these self entitled non tax paying rednecks than commies sucking on the government teat?

  • Bud-Tugly May 10, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Law enforcement can bust heads of ‘occupy wall street’ folks but ain’t got the ‘stand up’ for these dumb ass punks? You go punks! Make the west free for minerals exploitation to pi$$ on what you think you ‘love’. Stupid, uninformed is what stupid uninformed does.

  • CaptainCommonsense May 11, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Phil Lyman, “protest” organizer, just happens to live in the tiny town as Harold Lyman (and a lot of other Lymans), previously busted by the BLM for GRAVE ROBBERY, digging up and stealing Anasazi Indian artifact.

    Yes, it’s a “citizens protest”. Of course.

    How convenient.

  • Ashamed May 11, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Why are such lawless actions tolerated? Blanding is the west’s center for looting of archaeological sites and it is clear that these yahoos have no respect for anything. This is a national treasure – not a local ATV park. People expect the government to do what is necessary to protect these and other resources for future generations. It is a shame that this whole fringe anti-social, anti-civil society movement, with violent threats against legitimate authorities is being encouraged by elected officials.

  • But Seriously May 11, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Nothing says “save mother earth” like a good rampage through the canyon on a four wheeler! Wooo hooo!

  • Hale May 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s fine for people to protest. I also think that when people protest, they should be prepared to be arrested, and test the law in the courts. That’s how it’s done for civil rights, anti-war, etc.

  • JimS May 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    With Ancestral Puebloan Ruins
    Using their children as Human Shields

    Riding with ‘wrong’ flag while with hate for the government it stands for,and the laws of a civil society, that maintains ‘our public lands’ for the past, present and future American generations!

    And with not ‘america militia’s’ but ‘cells’ of ‘domestic terrorist’, using their children and women as human shields as they had discussed they would do earlier, reigning their ideology on the surrounding communities and coming from other communities where they seed and grow those ‘domestic criminal ideologies’ while many carry out criminal acts within while calling others, especially extremists religious groups, around the world ‘terrorists’, bringing terror for the residents of!

    All for a wealthy rancher and family who build that wealth from the free gracing, not needing to maintain their own land for, on the public’s dime with government subsidies after that gracing to the slaughter and health inspections of to the grills and dinner plates of America, the America they hate!!!!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent

  • Dot N May 11, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    What is wrong with keeping these lands closed to OHV? OHV damage fragile ecosystems when people and there are always those who WILL stray from established trails, ride noisy vehicles into the wilderness. Because I am also a citizen of the United States and these being public or federal lands means that they belong to me also. Henry David Thoreau said:” The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild, and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. . . . ”
    We need the quiet places for peace in our souls and to shed the worries and cares of everyday life.
    These were old Native American places as sacred to them as your Christian churches. I’m sure that you would object to having the Natives ride all over your church lawns and inside of the church. Just because their religion is different makes it no less important than yours. Creator has many names and paths to follow in search of the divine.

  • David Dalley May 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Indian bones and teeth are worth good money at pawn shops.

    It would open up a great economic trade for blandeen.

    • Truthbetold May 12, 2014 at 5:59 am

      Ur a moron and it native american not indian maybe ur bones will be worth something someday

      • But Seriously May 12, 2014 at 11:07 am

        I doubt his bones would be worth much.

  • Seller Soap May 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Thugs led by an elected official. No regard for any treasures or the public good. Grandchildren mean nothing to these oil belching two-cycle fools. Armed insurrection? How about a clown bus of the unemployable and illiterate? Maybe the ghost of intelligent people who TRULY cared about the land’s sacred character (think Edward Abbey) will appear and smack these rudderless idiots down the nearest arroyo. Let’s put them in jail and hope their public defenders can read the law.

    • Burton May 11, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      “oil belching two-cycle fools”? I just gotta love the uneducated left wingers. Has anyone noticed that North Dakota and Texas are the biggest producers of high paying energy jobs in the nation? That means the federal government gets the most tax money from these folks to pay for B.S government agencies like the BLM. Hey progressives just in case you haven’t noticed yet your wonderful government has led us into $17 trillion and counting in debt. In a country where less than 50% of the population actually pay federal taxes. Who exactly do you leftists expect to pay for all of your entitlement programs if you run out all the energy jobs that pay the most taxes for all this? Oh I know, You all think all the $15 an hour fast food employees can pay it! It would suck to be a liberal.

      • Really now May 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm

        how is this rant relevant to the issue of trespass and resource protection?

  • ABOWHUNTER May 11, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Talk about picking and choosing what laws to enforce. The feds pick and choose what laws they want enforce. Colorado,California,Washington,Oregon. All breaking federal drug laws. Making millions in federally illegal drug operations. Sheriff Eldridge did the right thing by taking a wait and see attitude. Land use battles have been going on for decades and that’s not going to change. Wake up and look around. Why does the BLM have combat troops that look like they came straight from Afghanistan? That’s what got those militia groups fired up. The feds are weaponizing all agencies. That’s what we all need to be concerned with. If you think the feds are doing a bad job managing public lands I doubt the state would do any better and it would be much easier for local crooked politicians to sell off your favorite atv trail or hunting area!

    • Really now May 12, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      It is myth that the BLM has combat troops. There are less that 300 LEOs and agents covering 285 million acres nationally on our behalf. There are probably more militia types with more fire power and better costumes in SJ County alone. Unfortunately with the paranoid lunatic fringe out there running around spreading ideological BS about federal government and encouraging threats and lawlessness, the LEOs need to have weapons too.

  • Seller Soap May 11, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Burton, you make my case, attesting to the abject lack of Intelligence among the Buffoons of Blanding. Don’t like the government? The Ukraine could use a few more strong backs and weak minds. Confuse freedom with reasonable regulations to keep your polluting machines away from the treasures of antiquity? Try your ignorant, lawless stunts in a state that values literacy. Don’t know the difference between an energy job and cutting ruts through a wilderness area? Can’t help you there. Neither can the middle school teacher from whom you failed to learn critical thinking skills. Good luck with them fossil fuels.

  • Truthbetold May 12, 2014 at 5:57 am

    Yeah lets ride some atvs over pioneer graves uh bad idea. Anyone willing destroying graves in any shape or form is sick. And the blm prob need guns because these fools carry guns. These people are so bored the love any excuse not to follow rule and bust out their guns. Lets remember these folks have made threats to fbi agents. By the way i live in blanding and have to deal with this im better than u my land this that im above the law bs all the time.

  • Bryon Pelzek May 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Appears many of the people who supported the Arizona rancher and travelled to Utah are misguided and were being used by Utah politicians; specifically Mr. Lyman. I was shocked at the article about Harold Lyman being arrested for grave robbing. Great reporting in the comments section.

    I am torn between the two. I feel we should not have so much government control and I support militias and the occupy movement for bringing to light issues, but then I see what happened at Hueco Tanks outside of El Paso and you can’t make out what the real petroglyphs are because of the horrible graffiti.
    This is a tragedy and a loss to our civilization, not just the native tribe the artwork originated from. Let’s recall what the militias want. From my understanding they want to have federal land in the hands of the states.

    Can the “state” promise this would not happen if they get full control from the Federal Government? Would they enact the same rules of no motorized vehicles in this area, similar to what the state of Texas did with Hueco Tanks? After all, isn’t this about giving the states more authority over lands??? I think many of us would want the same protections that this land already has if there was a transfer to the state.

    What about the damn??? We need more information on that as well. Anyone care to comment on this?

    Bryon Pelzek

  • ABOWHUNTER May 12, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    200 agents were used to closed off access to public lands during the Bundy cattle roundup. They were in full body armor and carried automatic weapons. Attack dogs were used. Snipers were placed in the hills to cover their operation. No myth. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck. Law officers need to be armed no argument there. It scares me when they start looking like occupation troops and not like peace officers.

    • Nope May 13, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      That is an inflated number and charge based on BS stated by the Bundys. There were no snipers among the good guys but there were plenty acting like snipers among the patriot posers who outnumbered the legitimate authorities 10-1. Most people inside the closed areas and in the helicopters were contracted wranglers trying to do their job. Body armor was worn and dogs were used on the front lines to try to keep the armed troublemakers away.

  • UberXY May 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Rednecks with too much time and not enough education

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