Local environmentalist Rose Chilcoat and her husband Mark Franklin pleaded not guilty Monday to felony charges stemming from an April incident in which a San Juan County, Utah rancher alleged the couple endangered his livestock.
According to Geoffrey Fattah, communications director for Utah State Courts, Chilcoat and Franklin appeared before Judge Lyle Anderson in Monticello’s 7th District Court.
Chilcoat and Franklin have a preliminary hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 22.
Chilcoat was initially cited with two misdemeanors: one for trespassing on trust lands, and another for providing false information when she identified herself using her married name to a San Juan County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
However, on April 18, the San Juan County (Utah) Attorney hit Chilcoat with two new felony charges of attempted wanton destruction of livestock (second-degree) and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant (third-degree).
Franklin faces charges of attempted wanton destruction of livestock and trespassing on trust land, a Class A misdemeanor.
None of the parties involved, including Chilcoat, Franklin, the San Juan Sheriff’s Office or the San Juan County Attorney’s Office, responded to The Durango Herald’s requests for comment.
According to an April 12 news release from the Sheriff’s Office, a Utah cattleman between Bluff and Mexican Hat on April 1 discovered a gate to his corral had been closed, and as a result, his cattle had no access to water.
A trail camera had captured the incident, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Three days later, the cattleman noticed the same vehicle that was captured by the trail camera the day the gate was closed, and he notified authorities. More than a week later, charges were filed against the couple.
Chilcoat tells a different side of the story on a fundraising campaign website she set up to raise money for the couple’s legal defense.
“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. “We are nature lovers who would never hurt a living creature. We are innocent of these charges that smack of retaliation for my years of successful conservation work in Utah.”
Chilcoat is a former associate director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness and is a founding board member of Friends of Cedar Mesa. Both are conservation groups that advocate heavily for wild land protections around San Juan County.
Specifically, Chilcoat and her associated groups focus heavily on ATV restrictions in the archeologically rich Recapture Canyon and getting national monument designation for Bears Ears.
Over the years, there have been tensions between environmentalists and some locals opposed to land restrictions. Posters at trailheads in the area have even declared “open season” on Colorado hikers.
On April 10, just two days before the charges against the couple were filed, conservationists were dealt a significant victory when the Bureau of Land Management decided to cordon off areas of Recapture Canyon to ATVs.
Recapture Canyon was the center of controversy in the 2000s when the Great Old Broads documented illegal ATV trails through the archeological rich area, to the outrage of many locals.
In 2014, County Commissioner Phil Lyman led a protest ride through the canyon in protest of the BLM’s closures. Lyman was subsequently convicted of federal charges and served 10 days in jail for his role.
“The BLM decision angered many of the people (and their friends) who built the illegal trails,” Chilcoat wrote. “They knew I was involved and perhaps saw an opportunity for revenge.”
Chilcoat’s fundraising campaign has raised $7,145 by 63 people as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. She said all excess funds will be donated to nonprofits working to protect Utah public lands.
Attempts to contact the Utah rancher, Zane Odell, were unsuccessful.
In her post, Chilcoat says she has “never participated in actions of civil disobedience,” and instead has a long and proven track record of working with communities to find common ground.
“The San Juan County attorney has filed these unfounded, politically motivated, criminal charges against me and my husband, and now we are forced to defend ourselves,” she continued.