Robert Keiter, a professor of public lands at the University of Utah who serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, said such rides have the potential to set a troubling tone particularly when they’re led by government officials, even if acting in an unofficial capacity.
“Cumulatively, this could add up to foment further actions of this type,” he said. “You have a legal process pending … which potentially offers a solution to the problem.”
Moreover, such rides threaten to derail collaborative efforts in southeast Utah among members of Congress, counties, conservationists, OHV riders and energy developers to craft socially sustainable land management solutions, he said.
“This has the potential to undermine the trust that’s really essential for those efforts to succeed,” he said.
Others say the ride, like Bundy’s illegal cattle, sets a troubling precedent for law and order. Just this month, Utah’s Iron County threatened to remove wild horses from the range if BLM failed to act, though the agency is now working with the county to cull the herd.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an environmentalist, industrialist, rancher or county commissioner, public lands don’t belong to any single person or entity. They belong to us all,” said Ross Lane, director of the government watchdog group Western Values Project. “The preamble to our Constitution specifically mentions future generations, and we owe them the same great opportunities we have, not just some free-for-all society where people decide which laws to follow and which ones to ignore.”