The federal government filed charges Wednesday against five Utah men who rode their ATVs through land protected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that contains archaeological artifacts. The men had been participating in a May 10 protest against what they saw as overreaching control of public lands by the federal government.
The protestors rode through Recapture Canyon in San Juan County, Utah, home to 2,000-year-old Puebloan dwellings, artifacts, and burials. The BLM closed Recapture to off-road vehicles in 2007 after finding an illegally constructed ATV trail and damaged archaeological sites, but it remains open for walking, hiking, and horseback riding.
“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,” said BLM director Neil Kornze in a statement.
The five men, including San Juan county commissioner Phil Lyman, are being charged with two counts: misdemeanor conspiracy and illegally riding on public lands. They could each face up to a year in jail and fines of $100,000 for each count if convicted.
“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,” U.S. attorney Carlie Christensen said in a statement. “Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner.”
According to the statement by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Utah, Lyman and the other men used social media, video interviews, newspaper articles, and a public meeting to promote the protest, despite BLM state director Juan Palma warning them that the ride could damage historical cultural sites. In all, about 50 people participated in the illegal protest. The first court hearing is scheduled for October 17.