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Health, Science & Environment

San Juan County Tries to Assume Control of Recapture Canyon; BLM Still Investigating ATV Protest

Judy Fahys

Dozens of all-terrain-vehicle riders drove into San Juan County’s Recapture Canyon a month ago. Federal authorities say that ride into off-limits territory was illegal, but they haven’t filed any charges yet.

Now, the San Juan County Commission is asserting authority over the scenic trail in a non-binding resolution. Recapture is filled with ancient burial sites and antiquities, and county leaders say the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking too long to decide how to safeguard them.

County Commissioner Phil Lyman led last month’s controversial ATV ride. His latest resolution makes a statement by saying the county will assume management of Recapture Canyon in August.

“We’re not trying to poke the BLM in the eye,” Lyman says. “This protest came off as a challenge of BLM authority, and it really was just a challenge of the process, trying to encourage BLM to move quicker and to do their job under the law. People say you did this illegal activity, and the truth was it was an illegal activity that was taking place from the BLM. And we’re trying to correct that.”

Lyman also says the protestors who drove into the canyon on May 11 don’t deserve to be treated like criminals.

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy voted against the resolution. He pointed out that Navajo tribal taboos forbid disturbing grave sites.

“To me a burial should be left alone,” he said at the June 2 commission meeting. “I don’t go to the cemeteries to look at beautiful things there. Those people have a right to spend their everlasting life where it’s at.”

Back in Salt Lake City, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is still investigating the protest ride and its impact on archaeological sites

“I am aware of the resolution,” says Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for the agency’s Utah office. “And I can say that we are continuing to move forward with the investigation. That does not change.”

Crandall says, after the BLM completes its investigation, it will send its findings to the U.S. Justice Department. That’s the agency that would file any charges for the ATV ride. The BLM closed Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 so it could determine how to protect it.

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