Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Big Save for Canyon Country: Props and Thanks to Tim DeChristopher

This is among the great stories of eco-heroism I've read from the American West in awhile.

Having done my Master's research in Utah's Canyon Country, including lands around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, I was deeply concerned about the Bureau of Land Management's rush to auction oil and gas leases on these sensitive lands during Bush's final days.

This is some of the finest country I've ever visited, naturally and spiritually mesmerizing. It's a powerful and healing place vibrant with the spirits (and arrowheads, cave paintings, and old hogans) of its past inhabitants. During long days out in the field researching the ecological impacts of roads, it almost seemed that the spirits would whisper clues of what to look out for into my ear. My scientific ideas seemed to emerge as gifts from the pinyons and the quiet coves of Wingate sandstone.

The BLM's action was tremendously irresponsible - lacking the normal public input and environmental analysis. They didn't even give the neighboring National Parks a chance to co-plan the leases, even though the impacts of drilling on air and water quality would be highly likely to affect Park lands.

So in walks Tim DeChristopher - giving us all the public input we needed to put the sale of 22,000 of these acres off until after Obama takes over in January. As High Country New's blog states:

So it seems fitting that a student protester off the street was able to make his own end-run around the BLM’s auction process. On Dec. 19, 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher walked in the door of the BLM's state office in Salt Lake, got himself a bidding paddle and managed to win 22,000 acres for $1.8 million and drive up prices on other parcels by an estimated $500,000. DeChristopher has no intention of paying, and the parcels he won wouldn’t be available for lease again until Barack Obama is in office, meaning they may not be leased for energy development at all. If the BLM’s rush in the waning days of the Bush administration left no time for adequate environmental analysis or public process, DeChristopher told Democracy Now, it also meant the agency “didn’t have time to make sure that all the bidders were bonded, which is how I got in so easily.” Oops.

Tremendous job, Tim - a big thank you! First beer's on me if we ever meet. On another positive note, I'm sure many BLM employees are nothing short of thrilled that you put a stop to the Bush Administration's shenanigans here. I know quite a few phenomenal conservationists in the agency who have spent the last 8 years feeling like quite the fish out of water. Here's to a much better next 8...

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