Federal government’s conspiracy and collusion with environmentalist in the Recapture Canyon protest

When Utah’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Juan Palma retired in March of 2015 he received accolades from the media for his work.

by Monte Wells
by Monte Wells

“After five years overseeing nearly 40 percent of Utah’s land, Juan Palma retires Friday as the state director for the Bureau of Land Management.

“While many state and local leaders would rather evict the federal agency from Utah, they don’t feel the same way about Palma.

“An easygoing leader who was able to navigate the fraught politics of public lands management in Utah, Palma is respected by environmentalists and oil and gas developers alike.” SLT March 6, 2015

Other state media sources applauded Palma and called him a “problem solver.”  Despite all this praise there was another side of Director Palma and his administration that only a few people ever saw. Unfortunately, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and three other men would witness firsthand how dishonest, manipulating and malicious Palma and his staff could be.


These four men became the victims of a premeditated conspiracy between the Bureau of Land Management and the US Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City, Utah.  This conspiracy also involved collusion between the federal government and several preeminent environmental activists; Liz Thomas (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance), Rose Chilcoat (Great Old Broads for Wilderness), Lori McCullough (Tread Lightly), Tim Peterson (Grand Canyon Trust), Lynell Schalk (retired BLM Agent from Bluff Utah), and Nada Culver (Wilderness Society).

Starting as far back as 2010 Liz Thomas, SUWA’s Field Attorney, demonstrated her malicious intent to discredit Monte Wells, a Monticello City Councilman caught in the conspiratorial web, in an email to Steve Boos, the Legal Counsel for the Navajo Nation and others.  Monte Wells is the owner of and reporter for The Petroglyph News,  a Monticello-based news blog, and was charged along with Commissioner Phil Lyman and others, in the Recapture Canyon case.  Wells’ alleged crime was reporting on the “protest ride” which took place in Recapture Canyon and a video interview with Lyman which was posted by The Petroglyph.

Wells had been an outspoken opponent of SUWA. But in 2011 he spoke out specifically against a foolish statement Liz Thomas had made during a San Juan County Commission meeting.  Her statement assumed that the people of San Juan County cared about what she had to say.  Mr. Wells reminded her that the reality was SUWA was considered the lowest form of life on earth by most in the county and that the citizens could not care less about what she had to say.  The comments by Wells apparently offended Liz Thomas, and it seems she has held a personal vendetta against Wells ever since as the following email illustrates:

1 Liz Thomas Email
see the full PDF email below

The vendetta became very evident while reading through the over 600 pages of emails that the US Attorney released as part of discovery in the Recapture Canyon Protest case.  These emails also revealed the level of collusion between the above mentioned  environmental groups and the government.

The collusion involved emails, phone calls, and personal private meetings discussing the activities and comments of Commissioner Phil Lyman and Monte Wells prior to the Recapture Canyon protest that was held on May 9th and 10th, 2014.

Here is an example of one email from Liz Thomas sent to Juan Palma, and Lance Porter telling them about a post Lyman made on his County Commissioner Facebook page.

G Liz Thomas 4-17
see the full PDF email below

After reviewing all the email it was very clear that there is a lot of collusion between Lance Porter, Juan Palma, and the environmental activist community.  The following PDF is a collection of email correspondences between the BLM and the environmental groups concerning the Recapture Canyon protest.

Collusion between BLM and Environmental Groups over Recapture Protest by The Petroglyph

With this collusion already in place Juan Palma appears to have decided, along with Lance Porter and others that they needed to teach Commissioner Lyman a lesson. The documentation shows that they used the environmental groups and media outlets to spread their smear campaign against Commissioner Phil Lyman and The Petroglyph reporter, Monte Wells.

The reason Lyman and Wells were getting all this attention was because they were both very outspoken about lands issues and BLM corruption in San Juan County, Utah.  Commissioner Lyman has always worked to hold the BLM and the Utah State Director Juan Palma accountable for broken promises and misinformation spread by Palma and the BLM for years on numerous issues.

In February of 2014, a town hall meeting was held in Blanding and the citizens present decided to have an ATV protest ride in Recapture Canyon in May.  The very next day Commissioner Lyman in his official capacity notified Director Palm about the protest ride and began a dialog between the county and the BLM in hopes of working together to reopen the trail prior to the protest planned for May.

Federal Conspiracy

On April 25, 2014, Jenna Whitlock (who is currently the state acting Director of the BLM) forwarded an email from John Steiger of the office of Regional Solicitor to Director Juan Palma, Lance Porter, and Lola Bird.  The following email was the one that was forwarded to a group of people including John Huber from the US Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City. The email refers to a letter that Lance Porter would hand deliver to Commissioner Phil Lyman on Monday the 28th of April 2014.

Steiger states,

“As we’ve discussed, one of the primary purposes of the letter is to help insure a successful prosecution should the planned ride go forward.”  

Steiger was referring to the Recapture Canyon Protest on May 10, 2014.

He goes on to say,

“The letter was also drafted with the expectation that it will be widely publicized.  To the extent possible please provide us with your edited version by 10am Monday so that we can finalize it and get a final draft circulated to the relevant Interior folks here and in DC before 1pm.”


Despite every effort by Commissioner Lyman to work out a solution with the BLM, the Department of Justice had already decided not to work with Commissioner Lyman and to prosecute him should the rid occur. Steiger didn’t say if the planned ride violates the law or whether Commissioner Lyman crossed into the closed area.  He indicated all Commissioner Lyman has to do to be prosecuted was for “the planned ride go forward.”

There was no indication of what Steiger meant by “the planned ride.”  By the end of April 2014 through the collusion between the government and the environmental machine the government had already created the story they wanted the public to believe: that Commissioner Lyman was going forward with the protest.  The letter they talked about hand-delivering to Commissioner Lyman was one of the last nails in his coffin because it reconfirmed to the media that the event would destroy sacred archaeological sites and that Commissioner Lyman was unreasonable, a threat to others and those who followed him as well.

The media jumped on the story and began using propagandists’ words and terminology to get the unknowing and uninformed public on board. Such words and terms include militia, “crazy commissioner,” “hates the government,” “destruction of archaeology,” and “this is a recipe for violence.” The four following articles illustrate the fact that the media and the BLM had been putting out the message from when Lyman first contacted the BLM after the town hall meeting: that he was a dangerous man, guilty of a criminal offense.

Denver Post “Recapture Canyon, Utah, to be site of next government show down”

High Country News – “Recapture Canyon and an illegal ATV trail”  “The extent of the destruction was stunning.”

Salt Lake Tribune“Utah guv, BLM urge Recapture protesters to follow laws”

Salt Lake Tribune“Judge orders Utah anti-fed protest leader Phil Lyman to pay for own defense”

On April 28, 2014 Lance Porter hand delivered the Steiger Letter to Commissioner Lyman.

Recapture BLM Letter by The Petroglyph

On April 29th Commissioner Lyman received a phone call from Greenwire, an environmental news outlet that stated they had a copy of the letter that Lance Porter had given him. This was upsetting to Commissioner Lyman so he contacted Director Palma to confront him about releasing the letter to Greenwire.  Director Juan Palma told Lyman that no one in his office released the letter to the media.  Regardless of who released it Director Palma was fully aware of the email he had received just four days prior stating that “The letter was also drafted with the expectation that it will be widely publicized. ”

Full version of the phone conversation

Keeping the secret / The final lie

Director Palma on two occasions April 29th and May 1st denied that the BLM had anything to do with the letter being released to the media.

On May 1, 2014, Commissioner Lyman and BLM Director Juan Palma had a phone conversation during which Palma promised that if Lyman did what he said he was going to do (referring to staying on the county pipeline road in recapture and not driving on the actual ATV trail) no one would be arrested. Mr. Palma specifically told Commissioner Lyman to have his celebration and that it would be okay for the protesters to ride or walked into the canyon.

This appeared to be the final part to the conspiracy that would ensure a “successful prosecution” of Commissioner Lyman.  With Lyman believing that he had covered all his bases there was no reason for him to not go forward with the ride.

Here is the recording of the phone conversation that took place on May 1, 2015

BLM Director Juan Palma later denied ever saying or giving Commissioner Lyman permission, and he became very frustrated in court when confronted with the recording of the phone conversation.  Palma identified himself in the recording and stated it was a conversation he had with Commissioner Lyman. Despite this Judge Shelby refused to allow the jury to hear the recording or to allow the defense to put it into evidence. Shelby stated that it was “untimely.”

Road in Recapture Canyon 1979

The conspiracy between federal agencies and the collusion with the environmental machine had worked to discredit and demonize Commissioner Lyman and all those who participated on May 10, 2014 in the lawful peaceful Recapture Canyon Protest.  This was made very clear by all the negative comments in the media such as the ones below:

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

“This opportunity for healing, to help these men and women has been postponed due to the threats of illegal activities by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on behalf of those who desire to drive their ATV toys over the sacred ruins of others,” wrote Grayeyes in a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Even the BLM Director Juan Palma added his own comments as if to solidify the deception.

Juan Palma, Utah director of the BLM, said agents noted the illegal activity on the closed ATV trail and the agency will pursue applicable charges.

“We know from the archaeological record left behind in Recapture Canyon that the area was previously occupied for at least 2,000 years,” Palma said in a statement. “Illegal ATV use within Recapture Canyon may have damaged many of these archaeological resources — all of which hold the history and tell the story of the first farmers in the Four Corners region.”

Then in September of 2014 the US Attorney, John Huber, filed charges against five San Juan County residents including Commissioner Phil Lyman.  These were the only people charged out of the 200 hundred-plus who people who rode down the county road in Recapture Canyon.

The collusion and conspiracy mentioned above didn’t stop with federal charges being filed.  During the trial, key evidence and information was not allowed into evidence, preventing the jury from seeing and hearing key aspects of the defense, such as the recording of Director Juan Palma’s conversation with Lyman during which he promised there would be no arrests for the protest ride.  Following the trial, after Commissioner Lyman and Wells were convicted, Federal Judge Shelby disclosed that he was close friends with Steve Bloch, the Legal Director/Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).   A motion was filed asking to have Judge Shelby recuse himself  which he did in August 2015.

Director Juan Palma’s son, Jacob (Jake) Palma was involved with the Public Lands Foundation.  Jake Palma also was associated with Utah Dine Bikeyah who is connected to the Grand Canyon Trust, and Round Rivers Conservation.  Juan Palma also had strong ties to the environmental Latino group HECHO, prior to his retirement and is now the Chief Conservation Officer at HECHO.  Environmentalist collusion with the federal government is more of an infiltration by environmental activists within agencies such as the BLM.  Today, one cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.


Hecho Juan Palma Story

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