SALT LAKE CITY – A southern Utah county commissioner who became a cause celebre in the movement challenging the federal government's management of Western public lands was sentenced Friday to 10 days behind bars for organizing an ATV protest ride through a closed canyon.
A federal judge also gave San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman three years' probation.
Federal prosecutors had sought to have Lyman incarcerated for up to a year on his conviction on federal misdemeanors. They said he used his office to encourage people to break the law in the ride designed to protest federal overreach in the canyon's closure.
Lyman's attorneys asked a judge to sentence him to probation and community service rather than prison time. Lyman acknowledged recently in court documents that he made a mistake and said he wouldn't do it again.
In May 2014 , Lyman and about 50 others drove ATVs on a trail that was off-limits to vehicles in idyllic Recapture Canyon in the Four Corners region, about 300 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The canyon cuts through ruins that are nearly 2,000 years old and home to dwellings, artifacts and burials left behind by Ancestral Puebloans hundreds of years ago, before they disappeared.
Federal officials closed the canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 to protect the ruins. But the decision has long been a source of tension in the area among people like Lyman, who say the closure was improper and unnecessary.
The protest was organized shortly after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over similar issues, illustrating the simmering tension between the federal government and residents in the West over land use.
Several Utah officials have supported Lyman's stance, including a group of state lawmakers who publicly threw down wads of cash during a hearing this year to help pay for his legal defense.
A jury in May convicted Lyman and blogger Monte Wells on misdemeanor charges of illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy. Two others were acquitted.
Lyman already has been ordered to pay nearly $96,000 in restitution. In October, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer ruled Lyman is responsible for the cost of repairs that workers made after the ride, including emergency stabilization work on soil torn up by ATVs and 3-D laser mapping to assess the canyon's ancient archaeological sites.
Defense lawyers contended Lyman stayed away from any sensitive areas on the ride, and the government's cost figures are inflated.