Groups soliciting funds to buy BLM leases

Published: Friday, Dec. 26 2008 1:12 a.m. MST

Tim DeChristopher said he found the federal agents who took him into custody "friendly, respectful and somewhat sympathetic."

Courtney Sargent, Deseret News

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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 hot spots 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."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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