San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman has called for the May 10 ATV ride on public land in the canyon, located just east of Blanding city limits.
Lyman said he has lost patience with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which “temporarily” closed the area to vehicular traffic in 2007 and has yet to reopen it.
Lyman said the ride is to make a statement regarding local jurisdiction.
However, because of the timing of another protest against BLM action in Nevada, the ride may attract significantly more people and interest than originally conceived.
Lyman said the idea for the ride originated from a February town hall meeting in Blanding. After the ride was planned, but before it could be announced, concern about federal government intrusion into public lands was enflamed by an altercation involving rancher Cliven Bundy in Nevada.
“People may think we are jumping on the Bundy train,” said Lyman at an April 21 Commissioner work meeting, “but this was planned before the events in Nevada.”
The BLM began rounding up Bundy’s cattle in early April, claiming that Bundy had not paid his grazing allotment and his cattle were trespassing on federal land.
Supporters of Bundy counter that an oppressive federal government was exercising undue power and was taking away the right of Bundy to graze cattle on land his family used for nearly 100 years.
A tense standoff attracted worldwide media attention, and protesters and militia members from throughout the western United States. Eventually, the BLM stopped rounding up the cattle.
With another public land protest scheduled in Blanding several weeks after the Bundy altercation, local officials are not sure what the response will be.
Lyman reports that one large ATV organization suggested that they could invite all 15,000 of their members to converge on Blanding for the ride.
“Most of the people that are interested in this are older, retired people who feel that enough is enough,” said Lyman. “Initially, this is a protest of the people of Blanding who are fed up, but it appears to be growing.”
Vehical access to the area was closed in 2007 by the local BLM office by a “Supervisor’s Discretionary Closure Action”.
A subsequent legal action in federal court resulted in a $35,000 fine for two Blanding residents who were accused of building unauthorized roads on public lands. The roadwork apparently damaged some archaeological sites along the trail.
The trail and fine is an outrage to many local residents, who state that little or no damage occurred.
“The canyon speaks for itself,” said Lyman. It has been next to Blanding for 100 years, and it hasn’t been trashed.”
Several years ago, and at the request of the BLM, the county submitted a Title V application to assume responsibility for the area. The county would develop, maintain, police and supervise access to the area.
The Title V application is challenged by a number of environmental organizations. County officials say that after several years of failed promises that the application would be processed, they have lost faith in the effort.
The county may decide to withdraw the Title V application before the May 10 ATV ride.
“It is the right-of-way application that has opened the door for this endless delay,” said Lyman.
“This is not an attempt to beat up the BLM but an attempt to state that surely the San Juan County Commission has some authority over the use of land within the county,” said Lyman.
It is not yet clear what is San Juan County’s role in the ride. At the current time, the ride is sponsored by Lyman himself and not by San Juan County or any other organization.