- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has asked the state attorney general to investigate whether the federal government acted illegally in the closure of a remote canyon trail that was the site of an ATV protest last year.

The action comes after state lawmakers donated cash from their pockets to help defend a county commissioner from southern Utah who was convicted on federal misdemeanor charges for his role in the protest.

Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab said Wednesday that he has documents proving the road shouldn’t have been off-limits because local authorities had a right of way there, according to KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City (http://bit.ly/1HxmXzS ).

Noel has continued to defend the riders who protested federal control of public lands in May 2014. He says the documents will lead to the exoneration of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who was convicted in federal court for his role in the protest.

Bureau of Land Management officials stand by the 2007 decision to close Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles in an effort to protect ancient cliff dwellings and artifacts.

The local right of way was only for a water pipeline, BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said.

“To call a water right a road is not correct,” she said. The canyon remains open to traffic on foot and horseback.

The closure has long been a source of tension in the area about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, where residents say they have used the ATV trail for generations. It culminated in the May 2014 ride to protest what the participants considered government overreach.

It came shortly after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had a confrontation with the BLM over similar issues, illustrating the simmering tension between the federal government and residents in the West over land use.

About 50 people rode their ATVs on a trail off-limits to vehicles in a canyon that cuts through ruins that are nearly 2,000 years old and is home to dwellings, artifacts and burials left behind by Ancestral Puebloans hundreds of years ago before they disappeared. There were no confrontations.

Prosecutors said Lyman was the ringleader for a public protest ride where participants had no doubt they were breaking the law. He and blogger Monte Wells were found guilty last month of misdemeanor charges of illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy. Each count carries a potential penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $100,000. Sentencing is set for Sept. 15.

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Information from: KUTV-TV, http://www.kutv.com/

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