Groups Soliciting Funds to Buy BLM Leases

Published on
by
The Deseret News (Utah)

Groups Soliciting Funds to Buy BLM Leases

by
Ben Winslow

Tim DeCristopher speaks with members of the news media after he was escorted out of the Bureau of Land Management offices in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 19, 2008 following DeChristoper's bid on several oil and gas leases during a BLM auction. DeCristopher tainted an auction of oil and gas drilling leases by bidding up parcels of land by hundreds of thousands of dollars without any intention of paying for them, a federal official said. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Steve Griffin)

Supporters of a man who disrupted an auction of land for oil and
gas development near some of Utah's most famous national parks are
trying to raise money to buy the land themselves.

The Moab-based Center for Water Advocacy has set up a legal defense fund for Tim DeChristopher on its Web site, wateradvocacy.org. DeChristopher won bids totaling about $1.7 million in his efforts to disrupt the controversial Dec. 19 auction.

"Tim is asking that if you care about Utah's canyon country, you
help us raise the funds to actually complete the purchase of these
leases! Let's keep the land out of production and keep it wild!" the
group said.

Paying for the leases could keep DeChristopher out of legal
trouble. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah told the Deseret News
earlier this week that it is still screening the case against
DeChristopher to determine whether it will seek a federal grand jury
indictment. The charge being considered is likely one of making a false
statement.

DeChristopher, 27, has admitted to bidding to run up the value of
some parcels. He won 13 parcels of land but said he had no intention of
paying for them. When other bidders became suspicious, he was taken
into custody by federal authorities.

A total of 116 of the 131 parcels of land were auctioned off, but
the Bureau of Land Management said it is still unsure if it will have
to re-do the auction.

The auction itself generated protests and controversy because many
of the parcels are near national parks or wilderness areas. More than
100 parcels were dropped from the auction list by the BLM under
pressure from environmentalists, outdoor-retail industry groups and
even the National Park Service because they were too near tourist
hotspots Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

A federal lawsuit over the auction remains pending.

Meanwhile, DeChristopher is being hailed on the Internet as an environmentalist folk hero on blogs and Web sites.

"The federal officials who took me into custody said that I cost
the oil companies in the room hundreds of thousands of dollars and
prevented 22,500 acres of land from being sold for fossil fuel
development," DeChristopher wrote in a Dec. 20 commentary on the blog oneutah.org.
"I had a very open conversation with the federal agents about my
motives and values. They were friendly, respectful, and somewhat
sympathetic."

DeChristopher acknowledges he faces the possibility of prison time, but believes what he did was right.

"If I am not willing to take a stand for my generation, then who
will?" he wrote. "This year I have come to terms with the idea that I
might be my own best hope to defend my future. Hopefully all of us will
realize that we are the ones we have been waiting for."

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