SALT LAKE CITY — The son of embattled cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and several other members of the family are expected to join San Juan County residents Saturday in a quest to stand against the federal government, joining a rally and planned ATV ride.
"People came and stood with us when we were standing against the BLM, and we will do whatever it takes to stand with them," said Bailey Logue, Bundy's daughter.
She said her brother Ryan Bundy is attending the Recapture Canyon protest along with some militia members.
"It is the same thing. The government has overstepped its bounds. It doesn't belong to the BLM, so why should the BLM be able to close it? It is the same fight."
The tense April showdown with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada erupted after a decades-old controversy over Cliven Bundy's failure to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees. The confrontation garnered the attention of militia groups who supported the stand against the federal government, leading to pleas by top elected officials for the groups to go home so the situation could be defused. Eventually, the BLM backed off from its plan to impound the cattle after confrontations turned violent.
In Utah, similar tension is thrusting federal land management policies into the spotlight — with the threatened ride Saturday on a closed trail in San Juan County's Recapture Canyon, a protest and a statement by the Utah governor calling for calm and a resolution in the dispute.
“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," he said, adding his office will work with the national BLM director to arrive at a solution.
"In the meantime, I encourage everyone to uphold the law and not do anything that could disrupt public safety.”
On Saturday, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman plans to ride on a government-closed ATV trail through an area rich with 1,800-year-old Anasazi ruins, in defiance of federal land management policies.
Lyman said the much-publicized ride on the northern section of the 11-mile trail is less about the canyon specifically and more about public access to trails in general.
"This is not about Recapture. It is not about ATVs. It is not politics, it is not economics," he said. "It is part of who I am. It is part of Blanding, and it is our culture, too. We don't not want to see groups come in and say these trails did not exist it was a thoroughfare since the mid-1800s."
In 2007, the BLM declared the southeastern Utah canyon off limits to all-terrain vehicles. At the time, off-roading caused so much damage, the ancestral Puebloan ruins on the canyon floor were declared in jeopardy. The closure was supported by then-commissioner Lynn Stevens, who toured the area and said many of the Native American sites would be at risk from ATV use.
Lyman said he does not want to see the archaeological resources destroyed, but people are fed with what he calls increasing government restrictions over public access to rural roads and trails.
The county has a pending right-of-way application with the Bureau of Land Management for the construction of an ATV trail in the Recapture Canyon area. BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said the county initially submitted the application in 2006 and made revisions in 2008 and 2012.
An environmental analysis, which will be released in the coming months, is being prepared on the proposal, she said. A final decision will be made by the end of the year.
Lyman said area residents have grown increasingly frustrated over the years with federal land management policies and environmental groups that seek to restrict access.
"The county takes the position that these trails belong to us. The land belongs to the federal government, but, even with that, we are pretty possessive about roads and trails and we felt this closure was not inclusive enough of the locals and their history and background."
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams said people are just plain frustrated.
"I am getting a sense from the citizens down here that they have kind of exhausted all their patience with the BLM and they are ready to stage some kind of revolt or display of unhappiness in general," Adams said.
"It has not been about the cattle. It has been about the control. The government controlling everything and trying to be in control of everything."
Both commissioners predicted the rally will draw a big crowd, but fewer people may actually ride the trail.
The BLM warned that it will prosecute people who break the law.
"The BLM-Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride and will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area," said Juan Palma, director of the BLM in Utah.
On Friday, he reiterated the agency's position.
“The BLM's multiple-use and sustained yield mission is to ensure the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. However, multiple-use does not mean every use on every acre, and the limited closures help protect these sensitive resources from further damage and shows respect to those whose final resting place is in the canyon."
He stressed that there are other ATV trails available to residents.
"There are more than 2,800 miles of trails on public lands that are open to ATV use within a short drive of Blanding — in other words, the approximate distance between New York City and Los Angeles" he said. "This extensive trail system offers OHV (off highway vehicle) riders vast and diverse opportunities to ride and recreate on public lands in southeastern Utah."
Crandall said the agency plans a limited response on Saturday.
"At this point, we are expecting to have a very light law enforcement footprint with just two plainclothes officers," she said. "These officers are rangers who are already stationed in the region who are familiar with the lands."
The San Juan County Sheriff's Office said it will have deputies in the area to "keep the peace and allow people to exercise their constitutional rights."
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