Commissioner faces criminal charges after ATV ride

Commissioner faces criminal charges after ATV ride

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SALT LAKE CITY — A San Juan County commissioner who railed against the federal government's closure of an ATV trail and organized a May ride in protest is among five men now facing misdemeanor charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that Phil Lyman, 50, of Blanding was charged with one count of conspiracy to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles and one count of operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles.

“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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen said in a prepared statement.

San Juan County Commission Chairman Bruce Adams said he did not believe the charges would impact Lyman's ability to serve on the commission, adding that Lyman discussed the May ride with his colleagues prior to the event.

"We sympathized with Commissioner Lyman and what he was trying to bring to light — the fact that it had been seven years for a right-of-way application to be processed through the BLM — but we were not willing to break the law to make our point," Adams said. "We did not choose to collectively participate as a commission. It was something that he felt strongly about and that he wanted to do on his own."

Adams added that he believes the level of the charges — misdemeanors not felonies — will not preclude Lyman from carrying out his duties as a commissioner, and certainly not before the case works it way through the federal court system.

This spring, Lyman told reporters he organized the ride in protest to the decreasing access to ATV trails on public land.


With Recapture Canyon, the BLM declared the area off-limits to all-terrain vehicles because off-roading was causing damage to ancestral Puebloan ruins. The county submitted a right-of-way application with the federal agency for construction of a new trail in the canyon, a decision that remains under review and is fueling frustration over a closed trail that Lyman says has been a thoroughfare for cattlemen and others since pioneer days.

The ride, which Lyman promoted through traditional and social media, brought rebuke from the national head of the federal land management agency on Wednesday.

“Regrettably, a number of individuals organized and engaged in an illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon, an area rich in archaeological history,” said director Neil Kornze. “Today’s actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office underscore the importance of protecting culturally significant areas and holding accountable those who broke the law.”

The charges came the same day the Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee heard from a parade of witnesses testifying about the perils of federal land management in Utah.

Groups such as the Utah Farm Bureau, the Utah Cattleman's Association, the school trust lands administration and several rural county commissioners detailed the frustration and negative financial impact they assert ripples through individual households, communities and state revenues as a result of federal policies.

Val Hale, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the state is losing out on millions because of the inability to get to its natural resources such as oil and gas and with so much of the state under federal control, the umbrella of impacts is "pretty dramatic."

Leland Hogan, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said the effects on rural Utah are real, and they are lasting.

"The decisions that are being made by the federal government in all of these cases and specifically with wild horses are systemically dismantling the rural economic base of the state of Utah," he said.

Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said the insult on top of the injury is that federal policies are handed down with condescending attitude that the policies are "best" for the people of Utah.

"They said they were doing us a favor by stopping the timber industry. In Panguitch it cost 400 jobs and it cost 80 jobs in Escalante. And the end result was bark beetle infested forests. … The problems are becoming insane. If the feds think they are doing Garfield County a favor by locking it up, they should think again."


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