The wrangler was driving a load of horses and burros north on Interstate 15 about 11 a.m. near Mills when a dark blue Dodge 1500 extended-cab pickup pulled up alongside the wrangler. The two occupants "told him he was No. 1 with that certain gesture," said Eric Reid, the wrangler’s supervisor at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Fillmore Field Office.
The pickup fell back and the wrangler continued north. A few minutes later, the pickup reappeared, Reid said. The men, wearing hoods, held up a sign, apparently scrawled on a piece of paper, that read, "You need to die." One of the men pointed what appeared to be a Glock handgun at the wrangler. The wrangler tried to make out a license plate number, but the plate had been covered with duct tape, Reid said.
Police have made no statements about possible links between this terroristic threat and today's illegal off road vehicle ride through Recapture Canyon, but the BLM took careful precautions to avoid violent incidents which could endanger the public or BLM workers. BLM decided to avoid a situation like the incident with armed outlaws at Bundy Ranch, Nevada, where the confrontation could have spun out of control. BLM quietly gathered evidence while making no attempts to block the illegal off road vehicles. Because some of the riders were armed and other riders included children without helmets, any BLM action could have placed the children in harms way. The parents used their children as hostages.
But that's not what makes me furious. I'm livid because these criminals intend to use intimidation and threats of violence to pressure the BLM into authorizing their plans to establish a permanent road for All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) so that they can profit from leading tourists on ATVs through Recapture Canyon.
It's not just my opinion as a former westerner. Here's an editorial the Salt Lake City Tribune wrote in 2011 before the latest lawlessness and attempts to intimidate the BLM.
Published: February 16, 2011 12:28AM
If the Bureau of Land Management allows San Juan County to legitimize an illegal all-terrain-vehicle trail in Recapture Canyon, it might as well give up even a pretense of enforcing protections for scenic and archaeological treasures in other remote areas.
Making this trail that leads to ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and relics a federally accepted trail would do irreversible damage to the environment in two ways. It would allow ATV users easy access to these particular ruins and put the artifacts at risk. And it would send an unmistakable message to other renegade ATVers: Hack an illegal trail on public land and there’s a good chance that trail will get the blessing of the BLM. The two men who blazed this trail were fined $35,000, and the BLM closed the access, which had been built directly over archaeological sites. But now, under pressure from county officials and residents who see no need for federal protections and want to attract more tourists on all-terrain vehicles, the agency is considering reopening the trail.
That would be disastrous. Too many ATV users, the trail-busters being two good examples, believe the outdoors belong only to them and they have a right to do anything they please once they climb aboard their motorized vandals. Reopening an illegal trail to take even more riders of these potentially destructive vehicles closer to ancient dwellings and relics is simply asking for trouble. With its limited enforcement abilities, BLM would not be able to monitor use and restrict it to responsible users.
The mentality of the rogue ATV users and those who want even more access to Utah’s backcountry is evidenced by the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters they have put up near the canyon, threatening members of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a group based in Durango, Colo., that has been fighting for more protection of archaeological sites.
We agree with Rose Chilcoat, associate director of the Great Old Broads, who asked,”Why on earth would BLM legitimize ... a criminal act ...? It’s a little like giving the bank robbers the money they stole.”
In Utah, the Bureau of Land Management is seeking comments on what could be a precedent-setting mistake. In 2005, Blanding residents illegally constructed a seven-mile-long, 4-foot-wide, all-terrain-vehicle trail in Recapture Canyon, damaging archaeological sites. Now San Juan County is seeking a right of way for that same trail.
In a pristine canyon considered a “mini-Mesa Verde,” rare cliff dwellings and archaeological sites are caught in a classic confrontation between local residents who want to boost ATV tourism and federal laws that protect our national heritage. For almost a decade, San Juan County residents, BLM officials, environmentalists, archaeologists and ATV riders with San Juan Public Entry & Access Rights, or SPEAR, have squabbled over the fate of this 12-mile canyon east of Blanding. The scenario has unfolded with almost laughable BLM bungling and a surprising indifference to federal statutes protecting cultural and natural resources.
Recognizing the potential economic benefit of a prized ATV trail, San Juan County, on March 30, 2006, filed for a formal right of way. The application said a scenic trail featuring ancient sites could become a source of income for the area. “We feel this trail could generate national interest, and we may see many people making the ride,” the application said. ...Who made the illegal trail and why had a criminal investigation been stalled for years? Rumors persisted that SPEAR volunteers had built the trail and San Juan County had assisted by providing scrap metal for an ATV bridge or stile. Finally, archaeologists, working under contract with the BLM, inventoried Recapture Canyon’s cultural sites and assessed the damage. More than 30 sites were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Specialists found artifact scatters, granaries, jacal or mud and stick woven walls, rock alignments, cliff dwellings and multiroom masonry unit pueblos.Recapture Canyon has been called a "Little Mesa Verde".
“The Recapture ATV trail survey area shows a long and rich cultural history,” wrote archaeologist Don Keller. “At the present time, actual site features are being directly impacted along the existing ATV track in several cases.” Recapture Canyon represents almost the entire prehistory of the Southwest from small, isolated Basketmaker II Pueblo I sites dating from 750 to 950 A.D. to carefully designed Pueblo III sites built from 900 to 1150 A.D. One site is as large as a football field and may include a Great House. Keller concluded that the canyon’s valuable archaeological resources could become a National Register Historic District. But, he said, “The existing ATV track development can be expected to hasten and increase indirect impacts to cultural resources.”
Archaeological site damage specialist Martin E. McAllister was more blunt.
In his Feb. 4, 2008, report, McAllister said that the illegal trail caused relatively severe damage to six sites that can never be fully repaired. In carrying out emergency restoration, the BLM already had spent $49,636.50. Total site damage was estimated at $309,539.75, with repair costs judged to be $90,734.27.
The BLM had to act. The criminal investigation resumed. Volunteers had built the trail in 2005 by cutting trees, moving stones, installing rock cribbing and drainage pipes, and even building a wooden bridge.
On Jan. 12, 2011, Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Huber filed misdemeanor charges in U.S. District Court against Kenneth Brown, 67, and Dustin Lee Felstead, 38. Sentencing came 10 days later by federal Magistrate Samuel Alba with defendants receiving probation and a combined $35,000 fine. ...
But Blanding ATV riders were outraged.
In April 2011, 300 people staged a peaceful protest walk through Recapture Canyon. They also launched a major fundraising effort for the “Ken & Dustin Fund.” SPEAR came to the pair’s defense, too, stating in a brochure: “These men are not extremists or terrorists that we read about every day. They are just ordinary folk. They are our friends, our neighbors. They are just a couple of fellows trying to improve our recreational experience.”
In 2007, I photographed the trail and the damage it caused. Recently, I sought an on-the-ground update. So, in late December with a few friends, I took a hike down Recapture Canyon. I saw flowing water, an intact riparian system, rare beaver dams and, off the deteriorating ATV trail, I found land with wilderness characteristics as wild as anywhere in the Southwest. Small cliff dwellings and granaries on both sides of the canyon were seen everywhere like pockets on a cowboy’s vest. In the stillness of a winter afternoon not even hawks circled. I felt alone in an intact ecosystem surrounded by the evidence of hundreds of years of human habitation.
Now the fate of this quiet canyon, so hotly contested, is in the public’s hands. San Juan County is seeking 14.25 miles of ATV trail and three trailheads or staging areas for ATVs. A major county-federal issue is at stake here. Yes, counties can seek right of ways on public lands. That option is in the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA 1976). But the ease with which counties can apply for and receive right of ways does not address cultural and natural resource protection along a right of way which counties are not prepared to safeguard.
In the Southwest with thousands of archaeological sites, additional ATV access may accelerate resource damage and increase illegal pot hunting. New procedures and protections must be put into place before authorizing rights of way on archaeologically-rich public lands.
Granting an ATV right of way in remote Recapture Canyon for a trail system illegally built sends the wrong message. ATV enthusiasts seeking public access need to start with federal permits not with picks, shovels, and saws.