SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted a ban Monday on motorized vehicles in some parts of a Utah canyon that was the setting of a 2014 ATV protest ride that was a flashpoint in the Western struggle over government land management.
The decision opens nearly 7 miles of trails for motorized vehicles at the north end of Recapture Canyon and the canyon’s west rim. But ATVs still won’t be allowed to travel the entire length of the canyon, including sensitive riparian areas on the canyon floor where some of the people rode in the protest ride, said Lisa Bryant, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman.
Providing recreation access on public lands is important, and disabled people can’t get around without motorized vehicles, Zinke said in a news release Monday.
The move marks a shift from previous administrations that banned ATVs to protect Recapture Canyon, which is home to Native American cliff dwellings. The U.S. government had previously closed 1,871 acres of the canyon area to motorized vehicles because of damage caused by unauthorized trail construction and damage to the archaeological sites.
Zinke said the design of the trails and other measures will protect cliff dwellings and natural sites important to wildlife.
The May 2014 protest ride was organized shortly after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had a standoff with federal officials over similar issues. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who was convicted of trespassing in the Utah ride, became a cause celebre in the movement.
Lyman said Monday that Zinke’s decision is “very vindicating” and brings some U.S. government recognition that the trail in the canyon is a road and opens the door for San Juan County’s pending legal claims that the county has a right to and ownership of the road.
“I’ll take it and I’m grateful,” said Lyman, who has appealed his conviction to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has not yet ruled on the appeal.
Lyman said Zinke’s decision on Recapture Canyon also bodes well for local officials who are calling for President Donald Trump to rescind the recent declaration of Bears Ears National Monument in the area. A coalition of tribes pushed for President Barack Obama to designate the monument, but Lyman, state lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert have called it overly broad and said it closes off access.
Zinke “has shown pretty clearly that he is willing to look at the realities of these situations,” Lyman said.
Mathew Gross with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said his organization is pleased that Monday’s order doesn’t give the county rights to the road, a move that could potentially open the door to widening or expanding the road. Gross said the order is “a reasonably balanced approach,” and his organization wants to ensure that cultural resources near ATV routes are not disturbed.
This story has been clarified to show that motorized vehicles are still prohibited on some parts of the canyon’s floor.
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