Citizen Conservation – saving our land from the Government

In November, the NY Times reported on the Bush Administration’s intent to open up land in southern and eastern Utah, some near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, to oil and gas extraction (details here).

On December 19, a 27-yr-old University of Utah economics major foiled a Federal oil and gas lease auction by winning bids on 149,000 acres of proposed lands, 22,000 of which lie near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southern and eastern Utah.

Tim DeChristopher won 13 bids, totaling $1.8 million and encompassing 149,000 acres. He is required to pay $45,000 to retain those bids, but is under investigation by Federal authorities for fraud since he had no intention to go through with the deal or to use the land for the intended purpose of the auction. His goal was to hold the land until the next administration took over and possibly reverse the decision to open the scenic land to oil and gas drilling.

A very bold move and one to be applauded. This issue is very contentious, not only between the government and conservation groups, but even between US Agencies, specifically the BLM and National Parks Service. You can read that in the NY Times article linked to above. It seems obvious this is one of a series of last ditch effort by the current administration to take a stab at conservationists as they go out the door, knowing they may not have much chance once the new administration takes over.

I applaud Tim’s effort and I hope it succeeds, if only to draw more attention to this type of swift maneuvering by a shady administration. Admittedly, these kinds of shenanigans occur with every administration and none are immune, as far as I can tell. But, how often does regular Joe Citizen get to have a say?

Here’s one of those rare moments when one person says “hey, this is important and I think I should do something since nobody else seems to be able to”. It was creative, non-violent, and I’m sure the rules will be changed in the future to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, but the word got out (and is getting out). One person can make a difference.

I think the citizens of the U.S. are waking up from their complacency of depending upon the government, trusting the government to act in their best interests. And, we have become a bit sleepy over the past few decades of prosperity. I think smart citizens can, non-violently, participate to help and to call attention to issues that are not getting the coverage or priority they should because someone in the upper echelons of power don’t think it’s important for us to know (or don’t want us to know, until it’s too late).

As a photographer, I was more than irritated to read the NY Times article and discover the intent to scar a valuable viewshed in the southwest. I’ve only been to the Arches area twice, but do intend to visit again. And, even if I wasn’t ever planning to return to that area I would hate to know that the surrounding areas had become an industrial park, ruining the opportunity for not just photographers, but other visitors, to enjoy the pristine views.

So, to Tim DeChristopher: Good job.

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