The livestock that local environmentalist Rose Chilcoat and her husband, Mark Franklin, supposedly put at risk by closing a gate had full access to water and were not in danger, according to the Utah rancher who reported the incident to police.
According to an audio recording of the police dispatch call, obtained by The Durango Herald in an open records request, Zane Odell tells the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office (Utah) that someone intentionally closed a gate on his corral to keep his cows from water.
However, Odell says that “what they don’t know or maybe figured out too late” was that there was another opening in the fence where the cattle were able to access water.
“We had the fence cut where we were drilling a well so no harm was done,” Odell said. “The cows did go around the corner and get in to get a drink of water. So I don’t have any dead cows. But their intent is still there.”
Chilcoat, on a website she set up to raise money for her legal defense, maintains there was no intent to hurt livestock.
“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.”
All of the parties involved in the case declined to comment for this story.
According to a news release from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, Odell on April 1 discovered a gate to his corral had been closed, “denying his cattle from access to water.”
The Sheriff’s Office in its announcement made no mention of the fact that the cattle did have full access to water.
The incident was reportedly captured by a trail camera Odell set up at the watering site, on state trust lands near Lime Ridge Road between Bluff and Mexican Hat. Odell declined to release the photos to the Herald.
On April 4, Odell, working at the site, noticed the same vehicle that was captured on the camera the day the gate was closed and notified the Sheriff’s Office. Deputies were able to locate and stop Chilcoat and Franklin, who admitted to closing the gate.
It wasn’t until April 12 that the couple were officially charged.
Franklin was charged with attempted wanton destruction of livestock, a second-degree felony, and trespassing on trust land, a misdemeanor.
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 deputy.
However, on April 18, the San Juan County attorney hit Chilcoat with two new felony charges: attempted wanton destruction of livestock and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant.
It’s unclear why the additional charges were filed. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office denied the Herald’s request for a case report as well as the police body camera video, which may provide more information.
Chilcoat, 58, is a former associate director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness and founding member of Friends of Cedar Mesa, conservation groups that advocate heavily for wildlands protections around San Juan County.
In recent years, tensions between environmentalists and some locals opposed to land restrictions have come to a head, especially over ATV use in the archaeologically rich Recapture Canyon and the national monument designation for the Bears Ears area.
Chilcoat wrote on her fundraising campaign website that the charges “smack of retaliation for my years of successful conservation work in Utah.”
“I have never participated in actions of civil disobedience,” Chilcoat wrote. “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.”
In June, Chilcoat and Franklin pleaded not guilty to the charges. The couple has a preliminary hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 22.