Could feds face next public lands standoff in Utah?

Recapture Canyon near Blanding, Utah, may be the site of another tense standoff over western public lands this weekend, as people plan to ride their ATVs in areas that have been off limits to motorized vehicles since 2007. Photo courtesy City of Blanding, Utah.

BLANDING, Utah – Could Southeastern Utah be the next place where private residents challenge the federal government’s authority on public lands?

Bureau of Land Management officials in Utah say they have been made aware that a group led by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman plans to ride ATVs in Recapture Canyon near Blanding on Saturday, although motorized vehicle use was banned in the area in 2007.

BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said anyone caught riding in the canyon, which is home to ancient Native American cultural assets, faces possible criminal prosecution.

“The BLM Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride,” she stressed. “And we will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who chooses to knowingly use a motorized vehicle within the closed area.”

Commissioner Lyman’s proposed ride in Recapture Canyon is linked to an ongoing effort by some Utah politicians who want to see all federally controlled public lands turned over to the state.

Media reports have drawn comparisons to Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay federal cattle-grazing fees for two decades.

The Nevada situation led to armed supporters defending Bundy when the BLM tried to cover the rancher’s debt to the government by rounding up some of his cattle.

Meanwhile, Crandall said her agency is also investigating possible threats against a BLM employee earlier this week on Interstate 15, about 90 miles south of Salt Lake City.

“I can confirm that we did have an incident,” she said. “And we’d like to remind everyone that threats against BLM employees will not be tolerated, and we are pursuing this matter with local law enforcement.”

According to reports, two hooded suspects in a dark blue Dodge truck pulled up alongside the BLM vehicle, allegedly displayed a firearm, and held up a sign that read, “You need to die.”

There have been no reported arrests related to the incident, and police are still seeking information about it.

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