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Outspoken San Juan Commissioner To Run For Utah House Seat

Photo of Phil Lyman exiting the court after being sentenced in Dec. 2015.
Judy Fahys
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman exits the court after being sentenced in Dec. 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Phil Lyman, a rural county commissioner who became a cause celebre in the movement challenging U.S. management of Western public lands when he led an all-terrain vehicle protest ride in 2014, said Tuesday he is running for the Utah Legislature.Lyman said he will run for the seat of Rep. Mike Noel, who is retiring after 16 years, and hopes to take over Noel's role of being the outspoken voice for states' rights and rural southern Utah residents.

Lyman, a Republican, said in a Facebook post announcing his candidacy that rural Utah is "under attack" but also has opportunities like never before under the Trump administration.

He said he plans to stand up to environmental groups and outdoor companies like Patagonia who he says are trying to push their agendas in rural Utah counties where most land is federally controlled.

"If those counties can't depend on access to those lands for sustaining their economy, they're just out of business unless they want to depend entirely on tourism," Lyman said. "They just need to be able to continue to ranch and log and mine, recreate and hunt.  That's important to us, it's important to the culture, it's important to the economy."

So far, Lyman is the only person to announce he's running for state House District 73, which covers several rural counties in the southeastern Utah.

Lyman earned notoriety in 2014 when he led ATV riders through a closed canyon home to Native American cliff dwellings to protest federal management of the lands.

He served 10 days in jail after a jury found him guilty of illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy.

He appealed, but that was rejected last year by the 10Th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Lyman said he won't take his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Matthew Gross, spokesman for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, acknowledged that district voters have a right to choose their representative, but said Lyman figures to be just as bad as Noel. The conservation group declared "good riddance" last week when Noel announced his retirement.

"Southern Utah has grown beyond the views of people like Phil Lyman and Mike Noel, who really do represent a bygone era," said Gross, spokesman for the organization.

During his time on the San Juan County commission, which he joined in 2011, Lyman defended the county against a lawsuit brought by the Navajo Nation alleging county commission districts were racially gerrymandered. A judge in December sided with the Navajo Nation, drawing new districts.

Lyman said the changes unfairly carved up the county's largest city into three districts and was done to harm his hometown of Blanding.

Lyman was also among the county and state officials who vociferously opposed President Barack Obama's designation of the Bears Ears National Monument just outside of Blanding. Lyman and others considered it another example of federal overreach.

He celebrated when President Donald Trump downsized the monument by 85 percent earlier this year.

Lyman said he would like to see the state of Utah sue to seek state control of federal public land that accounts for about two-thirds of the state. State officials have been considering the lawsuit for years, and hired outside attorneys to work on a legal argument, but have yet to move on it.

 "We should get to the bottom of it,'' Lyman said. "Litigation is the means provided to do that."

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