Did you hear?...Modern-day monkey-wrencher stirs it up in Utah to the applause of many

Like the infamous George Hayduke from the Edward Abbey book "The Monkey Wrench Gang," Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah student, decided he’d had quite enough with what he felt were abuses of power when it came to auctioning off public land to oil and gas concerns. Attending an auction, he ended up being the winning bid for leases to over 22,500 acres of prime public land near Moab. But now he needs help.
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Like the infamous George Hayduke from the Edward Abbey book "The Monkey Wrench Gang," Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah student, decided he’d had quite enough with what he felt were abuses of power when it came to auctioning off public land to oil and gas concerns.

So, rather than pour sugar into gas tanks, spike trees or set property on fire, DeChristopher attended a BLM oil and gas auction on Dec. 19 and bid against attending oil and gas company representatives. He ended up being the winning bid for leases to over 22,500 acres of prime public land near Moab.

Of course, what he did was technically illegal at the time since he had no intention of actually buying the leases, nor did he have sufficient funds to do so. As a result, the 27-year-old economics major faces possible federal felony charges for the 13 separate leases worth $1.8 million that he allegedly bid for fraudulently. However, upon advice of his legal team, on Jan. 1, 2009, he launched a website -- www.bidder70.org -- with the express goal of raising $45,000 by Jan. 9, 2009, so that he can pay the bond obligation and take ownership of the leases.

His hope, he said in an open letter on his website, is to protect the land until President-elect Obama takes office. "It is still unclear how the new administration will deal with this inappropriate auction and the disruption I caused to it, but I can only hope that President Obama follows through on his promise for a transparent government. Until then, I will make sure that no drilling or development happens on this land, and for that I need your help," said DeChristopher.

In total, three websites have been set up to take pledges: www.wateradvocacy.org; oneutah.org; www.bidder70.org. As of Jan. 5 at 3 p.m. PST, $18,000 had been raised.

--Michael Hodgson

SNEWS® View: What a brilliant act of civil disobedience. Since the November 2008 announcement of the lease auction, hundreds upon hundreds of conservationists, recreationists and concerned business owners have registered objections to the BLM's plans to allow drilling in some of Utah's most scenic land. Objections were also raised by members of Congress, the head of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, and members of the National Park Service. All were challenging, rightly, the most obscene proposed leases near Arches National Park, the White River, the greater Desolation Canyon region, Labyrinth Canyon, the benches east of Canyonlands National Park, Nine Mile Canyon, the Book Cliffs and the Deep Creek Mountains. BLM pulled back somewhat, but not sufficiently. Enter DeChristopher, who is to be applauded and supported. Few we know would have the gumption or fortitude to do what he did. While the officials in Utah and the BLM are likely upset, as are the gas and oil interests who probably ended up paying more for their bids than they otherwise would and not obtaining leases they wanted, the vast majority we believe are applauding. Let's be sure DeChristopher gets an official invitation to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market so we can honor him properly for this selfless deed.

--SNEWS® Editors

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