An illegal all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ride planned this weekend through Recapture Canyon in Utah is the latest flashpoint between anti-government activists and federal land managers. The illegal ride is already drawing criticism from the Navajo Nation, putting American Indian burial sites and cultural resources at risk, and has even forced the cancellation of a traditional Navajo Warrior welcome home ceremony for veterans.
Yet San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman (R-UT) and his supporters appear determined to defy federal law by riding their ATVs through Recapture Canyon, an area of southeast Utah known as a “mini-Mesa Verde” because it contains one of the highest densities of archaeological sites in the country.
Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees he owes U.S. taxpayers, has reportedly urged his supporters -– who include armed militia members –- to join Lyman in Utah this weekend.
“We need to help the people of Blanding re-establish who is in control of the land,” said Bundy and his wife, Carol, in an email that was reported by E&E News. “This is your next stand. Will you be there to help them like you helped us?”
Utah County Commissioner Phil Lyman shares Cliven Bundy’s anti-government views. In his showdown with federal law enforcement officials last month, Bundy made clear he does not recognize the authority of the federal government. “I abide by all of Nevada state laws,” said Bundy, “But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Like the Bundy confrontation in Nevada, the illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon is intended to challenge federal authority over public lands. Lyman, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, “says the planned ride aims to assert county jurisdiction in the face of federal ‘overreach.’”
The anti-government views of Cliven Bundy and Phil Lyman are also shared by a growing fringe of elected officials who want to sell-off or seize America’s public lands.
According to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a network of right-wing elected officials, organizations, and prominent commentators share Mr. Bundy’s anti-government views and are advancing proposals to seize or sell-off federal public lands in eight Western states.
This network of so-called ‘Bundy’s Buddies’ includes the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul (R-KY), Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Utah State Representative Ken Ivory. Ivory leads the American Lands Council — a group dedicated to advocating for the seizure of federal lands.
A new website from the Center for Western Priorities, BundysBuddies.org, identifies additional elected officials who share the anti-government views of Bundy and Lyman.
Most Westerners reject the anti-government land seizure agenda of the so-called “Bundy’s Buddies.”
Lyman and the other “Bundy’s Buddies” who are working to sell-off or seize America’s public lands are far outside the mainstream of views in the American West.
Public opinion research commissioned by Colorado College in February, 2014, found that nearly three in four Westerners –- and 63 percent of voters in Utah — are less likely to vote for a candidate who wants to sell public lands to reduce the deficit. And more than nine out of ten Western voters view their national forests, monuments, wildlife areas, and public lands as integral to their state’s economy.
In an alert to its members titled “Our Public Lands Are Not for Sale,” Backcountry Hunters and Anglers this week called the land seizure movement a “radical cry” that “should alarm all Americans who cherish their freedom to hunt and fish…. Our federal land system and outdoor heritage is the envy of the world and depends on keeping federal public lands out of state ownership.”
Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.