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A prominent environmental activist and her husband appeared Monday in court to answer new felony charges arising from a confrontation with two San Juan County ranchers who allege the couple imperiled cattle by closing a gate.
Rose Chilcoat and Mark Franklin, of Durango, Colo., were assigned an Aug. 22 preliminary hearing before Judge Lyle Anderson in Monticello's 7th District Court. Initially charged with misdemeanors, trespassing on state trust land and providing false information, Chilcoat now faces two new felony counts of retaliating against a witness and "attempted wanton destruction of livestock."
The basis for the new charges against Chilcoat are not specified in the court record, but according to a county commissioner's Facebook post, the witness retaliation charge stems from complaints Chilcoat sent to the Bureau of Land Management asking the agency to re-examine the two ranchers' grazing permits.
Chilcoat and her colleagues with Great Old Broads for Wilderness contend the charges are groundless and are being pursued in retaliation for her efforts to keep all-terrain vehicles out of Recapture Canyon and other advocacy efforts aimed at protecting San Juan County's wild landscapes.
Her work has provoked the wrath of area residents who blame her and other out-of-town environmentalists for last year's designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and restrictions on motorized access to public lands.
The San Juan County sheriff claims Franklin admitted closing a gate at a corral on Lime Ridge, just off U.S. Highway 163, on April 1. The act allegedly prevented Zane Odell's cattle from reaching a water source inside the corral.
While the charges had her enemies gloating on social media, Chilcoat vowed to fight the charges, which she described as bullying by San Juan County's ranching community.
"At no time did either of us do anything to harass or endanger livestock and livestock had full access to water at all times," Chilcoat wrote on a web page set up to raise money for her and Franklin's legal defense. "I stand up for what I believe in, for clean air and water, healthy lands, and permanent protections for the public lands that belong to all Americans not just the local community that would prefer to use and abuse the land for their personal gain."
In the first two days the page was up, 82 people pledged nearly $8,000 toward the $50,000 the couple estimates it needs. Excess funds raised will go to conservation groups active in southern Utah.
According to the couple's supporters, part of the corral's fence's was down at the time so it didn't matter if the gate was open or closed.
County Attorney Kendall Laws declined to comment.
Chilcoat, 59, is the retired associate director at Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a former National Park Service ranger and founding board member of Friends of Cedar Meas, a Bluff-based stewardship group. Franklin is a biologist who specializes in interpretation and owns a Durango graphic design business.
The confrontation with the ranchers, Odell and Zeb Dalton, occurred three days after the fence closing, when Chilcoat and Franklin stopped by the corral on their way home from a weekend trip to Valley of the Gods. Odell recognized their truck and used his vehicle to block them, while police were called.
The responding sheriff's deputy, Chilcoat wrote in her post, told them no crime had been committed and allowed them to leave.
Chilcoat's critics tell a different story, describing the gate incident as an "act of environmental terrorism." The local blog The Petroglyph claimed Chicoat was "throwing a fit" when the ranchers detained the couple.
"Apparently, Rose Chilcoat forgot about being civil when she and her husband locked cows out of their water source last weekend, endangering and cruelly harassing Mr. Odell's livestock," states the blog, run by Monticello resident Monte Wells, who was convicted with San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on conspiracy charges arising from a 2014 Recapture Canyon ride.
On a June 9 Facebook post of a video shot at Odell's corral, Lyman said Chilcoat's alleged act "was blatant sabotage."
"I think the whole objective of the gate closing was to either kill the cows or come back and take some pictures of very thirsty, emaciated cows and send them to the BLM to try to get him off his permit," Lyman said on the video. "Rose Chilcoat later emailed the BLM asking for special evaluation of Zane Odell and Zeb Dalton's permits in a vindictive way which earned her another criminal charge."