Student disrupts BLM auction

By By Jed Layton, Staff Writer

By Jed Layton, Staff Writer

After taking a final exam on Friday morning, Tim DeChristopher said he did not expect to end up bidding on and winning more than $1.7 million worth of oil and drilling rights to land in Southern Utah.

But when he arrived at the Salt Lake office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management he realized he could disrupt the entire process much better by posing as a bidder than by making a speech, picketing or holding a sit in.

“I see the drilling of these lands as a genuine threat to our future,” said DeChristopher, an environmental activist and senior in economics at the U. “It was clear to me that the environmental field was going to have to take more drastic action to save it. I was hoping that someone would step in and make a sacrifice, but overtime I had to come to grips that that person just might be me.”

After mulling over the consequences and the raising enough courage, DeChristopher began to bid on parcels of land, winning 13 of them, which held nearly 22,500 acres of land near Arches National Park that he did not intend to buy. He also bid on a dozen or more other land parcels driving up the prices for other bidders.

DeChristopher said the main reason he participated in the act of civil disobedience was because he felt the land auction to be illegitimate and fraudulent.

“I felt the BLM was hurrying the sale. They were obviously rushing through it and trying to get it done before Obama took office because no other administration other than Bush and Cheney would allow these lands to be used this way,” he said.

Many other environmental groups felt the auction, which was intended to lease oil and drilling rights in Southern Utah, was wrong and a number of other protesters assembled outside the office to demonstrate against it.

DeChristopher said he felt he was successful in delaying the auction of the land. The BLM must now wait over a month before being able to again auction off these properties. But in a month it will no longer be in control of the Bush Administration.

Auction officials quickly noticed DeChristopher’s phony bids and BLM special agents detained DeChristopher for a few hours of questioning.

Mary Wilson, a representative for the BLM, declined to comment and directed questions regarding the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, confirmed that DeChristopher and the land lease auction are currently under investigation.

“All I can say is that the situation is under investigation at this time to see if any federal laws were violated. No charges have yet been made at this time,” she said. Rydalch speculated that the investigation would take a couple of weeks and said it is too early to guess about whether or not charges will be filed or what type they might be.

DeChristopher said he understood the possible consequences before bidding. Potential penalties include prison, fines and the delaying of his last semester of school.

Despite this, DeChristopher said he would be willing to do it again if an opportunity arose.

“If it can set aside some of the really precious land and keep the oil in the ground then it is worth it,” he said.

Over the winter break DeChristopher will spend time with his family in Colorado while a legal defense team made up of Patrick Shea, a former BLM director, and Ron Yengich, one of Utah’s top defense attorneys, help him prepare for possible charges. DeChristopher said both men have offered their services pro-bono and that a defense fund has been set up on his behalf to pay for any legal expenses he might incur.

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