Federal authorities are considering bringing charges against a group of at least 50 protesters who trespassed on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Utah Saturday.
A handful of demonstrators decided over the weekend to protest the U.S. government by riding all-terrain vehicles on federal property that has been off-limits to motor vehicles for the past seven years.
Federal authorities in 2007 to closed off land near Recapture Canyon, Utah, after they found an illegal trail cutting across ancestral ruins left behind by Ancestral Puebloans, the Associated Press reported.
The Bureau of Land Management said at the time of the closure that the land had become overused and that motor vehicles threatened to do serious damage to other archeological artifacts in the area, including ancient Indian dwellings.
While the federal agency closed off the land to motor vehicles, it has always remained open to hikers and horseback riders.
Nevertheless, dozens of demonstrators, some of them armed, stormed the federal land on their ATVs in protest of the closure, arguing that the federal government had unfairly robbed them of “outdoor recreation opportunities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re not proponents of breaking the law,” one of the protesters, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, told the Salt Lake Tribune prior to the demonstration. “Just because BLM owns the property, that doesn’t mean they own the right-of-way that exists.”
Following the public demonstration, federal authorities are now working to see who broke the law, said Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Megan Crandall, adding that federal agents are currently performing a damage assessment of the area.
The federal agency reportedly knew of the demonstration beforehand and warned all week that trespassers would be prosecuted. Plainclothes Bureau of Land Management enforcement officers were also present during the demonstration and documented the protesters, according to Crandall.
The Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman added that the federal agency is determined to hold the trespassers accountable.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City said her office will wait on the results of the Bureau of Land Management’s damage assessment before it comments on possible charges against the protesters.
A similar ATV protest ride took place on closed off land in 2009. Federal prosecutors didn’t file any charges.
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