You are here: home   Blogs   The GOAT Blog   Fear and loathing in San Juan County
The GOAT Blog

Fear and loathing in San Juan County

Document Actions
Tip Jar Donation

Your donation supports independent non-profit journalism from High Country News.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn | Oct 08, 2012 06:00 AM

Last weekend, one, two, or maybe many anti-wilderness advocates in San Juan County, Utah, decided that freedom of speech wasn't good enough for them. They felt so desperate to be heard that they turned into criminals, using vandalism and threats to amplify their voices.

The target of this criminal rage? A group of elderly women. That group is called Great Old Broads for Wilderness. The organization is primarily composed of "old and gray" people, (mostly women) and its mission is to advocate and educate on behalf of the environment.  Great Old Broads has twice-yearly campouts in various locales, called "Broadwalks," where they conduct educational hikes and bring in speakers to discuss environmental issues and advocacy campaigns in that area. During the last weekend in September, about 50 "Broads" gathered in southeast Utah's canyon country, a few miles outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.GOB member

A member of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness listens to a scientific presentation about the importance of soil crust in minimizing erosion during their recent Broadwalk in Utah's canyonlands.

On the evening of September 28 the group was vandalized. On the night of September 29 they received threatening messages and were locked into their campsite, an action that put their safety at risk.

The Broads were camping on private property, the Nature Conservancy's Dugout Ranch, which is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management land. In order to get to the campsite, one had to turn off the main road into the Needles district, drive down a BLM road, and then go through a private gate and drive into the camp. The Broads, as they are often called, had hung their vinyl banner on the gate to let members know where to turn. On the first evening of vandalism, the banner was slashed and spray-painted. The Broads took it in stride, making jokes about San Juan County residents picking on a bunch of grandmothers and "little old ladies."

GOB Vandalism 1

Vandalism from Friday evening, cutting through the Great Old Broads banner.

On Sunday morning, a member of the group who awoke very early to leave the campsite and return to work found the exit gate padlocked shut and an old hag Halloween mask, doused in fake blood, hung in effigy on a fencepost nearby. Underneath the mask was a milk jug with the threat "Stay out of San Juan County. No last chance" inked onto it.

GOB Vandalism 2

Veronica Egan, the executive director of Great Old Broads, then had to hike about a mile to the ranch house and find an employee with bolt cutters who could come cut the chain.

Closing off vehicle access out of a campsite is a threat to the safety of any group. When it happens to a group of elderly women, the risk is even greater.

"The last Broadwalk we were on we had two people that went to the hospital," says Rose Chilcoat, associate director at the organization. "Especially when you have that many people, you never know. It could have been a health issue; it could have been a fire. In my mind, it was as dangerous as if people had locked us into a house."

Egan, the executive director, says that unfortunately she expects her group to get picked on when they are in the Canyonlands area.  This is not the first time residents of San Juan County have threatened the Broads.

Since 2006, Great Old Broads for Wilderness has been involved in what Egan calls the "saga" of an illegally constructed trail in the area, in Recapture Wash. The illegal trail allowed motorized access into archaeological sites, and in 2006 the Great Old Broads conducted monitoring of the construction, which included a bridge, culverts and rock cribbing, raising awareness within the BLM about the trail and threats to cultural resources. The following year, the route was closed, because of vandalism to the archaeological sites in the area. Such vandalism triggers automatic closures to motorized vehicles under the Archaeological Protection Act, but locals blamed the Broads.

"Someone in San Juan county thinks that we forced the BLM to close the trail," says Egan. "If only we could force the BLM to do anything!"

GOB wanted poster

Since the closure, the Broads have been involved in a working group of stakeholders, including motorized users, discussing the future of the trail. In 2010, as the working group headed out to look at the area, they encountered numerous signs. The signs read:

"Wanted dead or alive: Members of Great Old Broads for Wilderness are not allowed in San Juan County Utah."

Just a day before the September Broadwalk, the main newspaper in the San Juan County town of Blanding, the weekly Blue Mountain Panorama, ran a two-page piece that let readers know exactly where the Broads were planning to camp. A line in the article reads: "The GOBs are coming, the GOBs are coming!" In the piece, members of the local ATV group, SPEAR, are encouraged to take "a field trip to the GOB's camp to take pictures, and listen to their BS, and smile at them. Perhaps an ATV parade (on existing trails near their campsite), with members of the GOBs Board of Directors as Grand Marshalls might be appropriate." The piece concludes "maybe we should keep an eye on them while they're here…"

It's unclear if this piece of writing was considered a news story, an editorial, or an advertisement. It lacks a byline, and two phone calls and an email to the editors of the weekly (which is not online) to clarify the piece, its author, and its intent, have gone unanswered.

What is clear is the article's inflammatory tone, and that it uses details from the Great Old Broads website to outline for readers where the group is camping -- a handy tool if you're an aspiring vandal.

Blue Mountain Panorama 9-6-12 - Great Old Broads article

The Great Old Broads is not the only group experiencing hatred in San Juan County, which has long been known for its opposition to wilderness and management changes on public lands. Members of the federal government in charge of enforcing policies on public land have also experienced harassment from locals. High Country News is currently investigating this topic as well; if you have any information, please feel free to contact us.

While citizens of San Juan County are more than welcome to disagree with the positions taken by the Great Old Broads -- it's a free country, after all -- the manner in which they show their disproval is cowardly and shameful. In such a beautiful part of the world, it's saddening to see such ugly actions.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the online editor at High Country News.

Images courtesy the author

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 08, 2012 12:19 PM
I have THIS information. If Blue Mountain Panorama won't talk to HCN, we can talk to it. The paper has a FB page. Fire away, folks: https://www.facebook.com/[…]/109283345790564
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Oct 08, 2012 12:22 PM
Thanks, Steve. Actually I think that's an old Facebook page for them. I think the new one is here: https://www.facebook.com/bluemountain.panorama
Gary O'Brien
Gary O'Brien
Oct 08, 2012 02:56 PM
Thanks for this information, Stephanie. Keep up the good work.
Pete Flanigan
Pete Flanigan
Oct 08, 2012 06:33 PM
Great reporting Stephanie. Incidents of intimation are less effective if you shine a spotlight on them. Whether you are for/against ATV's on public lands, you shouldn't be harassing old ladies who are proposing solutions. Please keep it up!
Pete Flanigan
Pete Flanigan
Oct 08, 2012 06:34 PM
(keep up the great reporting I mean ;))
Tom & Carol Strong
Tom & Carol Strong Subscriber
Oct 09, 2012 02:23 PM
These people with threats are not good human beings. They are uneducated and selfish trash only wanting their way...they are no help to their own families or friends. I say: Go Broads!!! I am a member and the Broads are wonderful!!!
Bob  U
Bob U
Oct 09, 2012 04:20 PM
Gee what a surprise: locals don't want some group effectively staging another huge exclusionary land grab by the Federal Gov't.

As usual, an older generation wants to lock out all users from the land except themselves. Oh what do the GOBs lose by making the areas Wilderness-nothing.

What do the locals and recreationalists lose -access.

So even though many are against extraction, many more are against the land grabbing environmentalists who use any angle they can to lock out more land via Wilderness. Yay for states rights if it prevents this Federal land lock out.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 09, 2012 04:36 PM
Gee, Bob, sounds like you're a subscriber to the Blanding paper. First, in the case at hand, the "broads" were on private property, not even federal land. Second, there's plenty of "recreationalists" who don't drive ATVs on unauthorized areas to the point of causing severe erosion. Third, there's plenty of non-wilderness areas to drive ATVs.

Want to "try again," starting with the reality of this situation?
Gary O'Brien
Gary O'Brien
Oct 09, 2012 05:15 PM
Just so you're aware... the admins of the Facebook pages for the Blue Mountain Panorama are deleting comments that bring up their irresponsible article.
 
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 09, 2012 05:19 PM
OK ... next step could be contacting the Utah Press Association.
Gary O'Brien
Gary O'Brien
Oct 09, 2012 05:21 PM
Oops. I was mistaken about the comments on the Facebook pages of the Blue Mountain Panorama. They are still there, so add yours.
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Oct 09, 2012 09:02 PM
Bob, of course the locals and you and anyone who pays taxes in the United States are entitled to disagree with the Broads' positions on protections for federal lands. That is not the point. The point is that in this situation the "locals" resorted to vandalism, threats, and potentially health-threatening actions in order to make their point. And they were incited to action by the irresponsibility of a local newspaper. Those actions were wrong and illegal, and as a journalist, I find the newspaper's part in it to be incredibly disappointing.

Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor
Quin Ourada
Quin Ourada Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 08:11 AM
Wait, let me get this straight Bob? The Federal Gov't deciding to differently manage land already in it's holding is now considered a "land grab". Maybe you might considering being appreciative of the millions of acres of federal land you do have access to. And maybe part of that thankfulness might include responsible stewardship of that land. After all, the only reason anyone wants to "lock up" any land as wilderness is that land and it's resources have been neglected to the point of seriously diminished value.

I live in UT and have no problem with ATVs. I love seeing people out enjoying the fabulous public lands we have in UT. Folks in the east have nothing like it available because it's mostly been bought up by private entities. Don't be fooled, these entities want YOUR land. Maybe not today, or tomorrow or next year but eventually, they want it all. Let's keep public land in UT public and let's not abuse our fantastic resource.
Quin Ourada
Quin Ourada Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 08:19 AM
I should add, the story real here; the actual threats to the security and health of the GOBs is absolutely despicable. It's hard to respect any group, local or not, who resorts to tactics of overt intimidation and physical harm. The individuals who locked the GOBs behind a gate are guilty of suppressing the inalienable rights of American Citizens. How un-American.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 10, 2012 08:42 AM
Oh, I have contacted the Utah Press Association to report what, as Stephanie notes, is very disappointing ethical behavior on the part of the Panorama.
Charlie Swearingen
Charlie Swearingen
Oct 10, 2012 09:28 AM
I have been locked our of wilderness areas here in Idaho due to environmental activism and it is happening all over the West. I have lived in Idaho all my life and suddenly I can't go into certain wilderness areas on horseback. It makes me even more angry that I have to get a permit prior to going into the wilderness (permission from my gov't). That is un-American, that is a slam to my/our rights, whatever happened to freedom? I agree with Bob and although I don't like the GOBs being harassed I have been harassed by enviros and my private property destroyed by them. So, my point is it happens from both sides...big deal. To claim the GOBs safety was at risk is a real stretch.

I am tired of political science managing the natural resources of the west. In fact, the Forest Service and BLM have become irrelevant because of it and the enviros control everything. In the 1970s/1980s the environmental movement made a few good changes that were beneficial, but power corrupts all and they swung the pendulum to the far left and became controlling. The environmental community has created an industry that is no longer a benefit or useful to the people of this country. Most folks involved have no more knowledge of Mother Nature that what they can glean from the Disney Channel and it's making a mess.
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 09:36 AM
Charlie, I don't follow your logic. Just because someone robs your sister's house, does it then make it okay for you to rob someone else's house? If environmentalists were destroying private property and taking illegal, threatening actions against other users groups, High Country News would also be reporting on the illegality of that.

Again, the point is not what you or any environmental group or ATV group wants to happen on public lands. The point is that harassment and threats are not the way to communicate a message. We live in a country that, fortunately, has many legal forums for public input on land management. I find the argument that "well, others have done illegal things, so it's okay for me or any group to also do illegal things" highly problematic.

Best,

Stephanie
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 10, 2012 10:26 AM
Charlie, you're also wrong on the safety issue. These are senior citizens, and as the story said, at a previous campout, one lady needed emergency medical help. It's kind of hard to get that when you're padlocked inside a place.

On getting locked out of wilderness places while on horseback, please show me some detailed, documented evidence. All wilderness areas are normally open to riders on horse. That sad, some trails, both in non-wilderness and wilderness areas, are open to foot hikers only. but, that's been the case for decades, and isn't a "land grab."

Finally, the idea that environmentalists are the people who get most their knowledge from the Disney Channel is laughable.
Charlie Swearingen
Charlie Swearingen
Oct 10, 2012 10:52 AM
Anyone can get through any fence/gate or padlock. Especially Emergency Medical personnel with wrenches, bolt cutters, wire cutters or a crowbar. Big deal. The ladies were quite safe. Besides, anytime people go into the backcountry they are taking on certain calculated risks that go along with the activity.

Portions of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) in Idaho are closed to horse use. Check out the SNRA website. Just because it's been the case for decades does not make me feel any better nor does it make it right.

Exactly, I think it's laughable as well. That's why I said it. People today have lost touch with Mother Nature. They are clueless weekenders and the outdoors is a hobby, a popular cause for them. It's a fad. Not their way to make a living or their traditional lifestyle.

Respectfully...
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 10:56 AM
Charles, you are wrong. The women and their partners were in an area with no cell phone service and no way to connect to emergency medical personnel. If there had been an issue, they would have needed to transport themselves at least to an area where they was service, many miles away, and, more likely, to the nearest emergency room. These people were car camping on private property with the expectation that they could enter in and out of the property freely. The vandals cut off that escape route. It is a safety issue.

Best,

Stephanie
Quin Ourada
Quin Ourada Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 12:20 PM
Folks who advocate wilderness are not looking for "Disney" experience. They are generally people who do spend time outdoors as a significant part of their lifestyle. The whole point of wilderness is to offer a more rugged, removed, self-reliant experience than anyone riding in on ATV or, with all due respect, horse is looking for. I think we all need to be really careful about engaging in a battle with each other because most of us are looking for the same thing. We appreciate and want to maintain beautiful rural places, removed from the annoyances of modern life where we can re-connect with nature. We want an escape from cities, roads, noise, shopping malls and all that. We need to be careful here because there are folks trying hard to bring the city with them and to capitalize on our public lands. I think these folks love to see us distracted by in-fighting, I also think they encourage it. They distract with one hand and rob with the other. We all want access to enjoy and recreate with our excellent public resources, not amusement parks (Disney) and certainly not someone's private profit center, dude ranch, etc. We need to work with each other to protect these places in a manner that respects multiple uses.

That said, these women were not engaged in a "Wilderness" experience when they were locked in. They were on private land with the full expectation, and legal right, to come and go as they pleased. Someone, or group, felt entitled to restrict these women's rights.
Veronica Egan
Veronica Egan
Oct 10, 2012 12:32 PM
I must finally get into this discussion, because I was there and the ladies (and gentlemen) at the event were ultimately my responsibility. Given the advance publicity in the county by the Blue Mtn. Panorama we fully expected to be "visited" at some point, so the banner vandalism and scrawled threats were no surprise, unfortunately. As Stephanie mentioned, it wasn't the first time. The locking of the gate was a more serious matter however. I've had to drive event participants to the hospital more than once for things like altitude sickness , seizure and dental emergencies. The locked-gate foolishness could have had serious repercussions.It certainly hasn't diminished our commitment to advocating for good land management and protection of unique and fragile landscapes such as those around Canyonlands NP. Some misconceptions need to be cleared up. First, Great Old Broads for Wilderness is not proposing wilderness designation for the Greater Canyonlands landscape. We are, however, pushing for some increased level of protection for it, since it has none at the moment. Second, wilderness designation doesn't lock anyone out; only mechanical and motorized means of travel are prohibited. Third, some means of travel, such as horses on certain trails in the Sawtooth SNRA, need to be more closely managed due to resource damage and user conflicts, and these instances are extremely rare. As a former horse packer I can attest to the impacts of heavy horse use on some steep or wet trails, as well as on heavily used campsites. It all boils down to being respectful-of one's neighbors, one's surroundings, and the other creatures with whom we share the planet. We "two-leggeds" had better learn to mind our manners. Mother Nature bats last!
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Oct 10, 2012 12:38 PM
Charlie, per Veronica's comments, I would venture that the Sawtooth restrictions are for legitimate management reasons.

And Veronica, thanks for weighing in.
Tom & Carol Strong
Tom & Carol Strong Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 02:33 PM
...an excellent response by Veronica. And the professional responses by Stephanie are well taken. It is too bad there are so many misconceptions. I like the statement about minding our manners. Too often, people jumpstart too quickly without considering what they are doing, what they are saying, and where it will all lead. Another human being's safety should always be a major priority.
Jim Watt
Jim Watt
Nov 21, 2012 10:08 AM
Hi Stephanie: Sorry to be so long getting back to you on this; as a participant I can verify the accuracy and grace of your story. I am interested, too, in the negative responses of a couple of your readers. What they have in common is a sense of entitlement that is limited to themselves and their friends. The land, after all, at issue here is not 'owned' by any single person. The Federal Government is charged with stewardship of it under U.S. Law. But, before that, in the case of Utah, it was understood by the people living on it to be the source of their living and the 'mother' of them, and all the other creatures on it. And, of course, it was also understood to be the basis of all future life there. The one thing it was NOT understood to be was a gift to any person or persons to dispose of however they see fit. As one of the complainers pointed out, most of the land 'back east' has become 'private property' and is protected by U.S. law which insures its 'owners' the right to dispose of it however they see fit. It is, then, obvious that in order to prevent such exploitation of public land, we all need to work together to keep it for the future. The only issue ought to be how best to go about it. I support setting some of it aside for recreation and access just as I support making sure most of it is wild. It is obvious that this is a never-ending process. And your story and the responses to it show precisely why this is the case. Thanks for caring.

Email Newsletter

The West in your Inbox

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Follow our RSS feeds!
  1. Rancher vs BLM: a 20-year standoff ends with tense roundup |
  2. Photos of a standoff | Armed militia members join a Nevada rancher to pro...
  3. After the standoff, what's next for Bundy and BLM? |
  4. Why homes are lost to wildfire | This Forest Service expert says it's as much a soc...
  5. The energy haves and have-nots | Will rooftop solar owners get off the grid — and...
  1. Why homes are lost to wildfire | This Forest Service expert says it's as much a soc...
  2. Photos of a standoff | Armed militia members join a Nevada rancher to pro...
  3. The energy haves and have-nots | Will rooftop solar owners get off the grid — and...
  4. Will the Colorado River reach the Gulf of California once more? | Photographs of last month's historic water pulses....
  5. Locals resist a Bakkenization of the Beartooths | South-central Montanans oppose new drilling, forew...
More from Culture & Communities
Visiting the frosties of the Lost Sierra The wonders of the classic roadside stands that still dish out soft-serve ice cream.
International Car Forest of the Last Church For a strange trip, check out Nevada’s otherworldly Stonehenge of wildly painted abandoned vehicles.
Adventure travel vs. conservation A conversation with outdoor entrepreneur Bill Bryan.
All Culture & Communities
 
© 2014 High Country News, all rights reserved. | privacy policy | terms of use | powered by Plone