By Jon Bowermaster
Two years ago, a then-27-year-old economics student at the University of Utah named Tim DeChristopher spoiled an auction of pristine Western wilderness—intended as a parting gift from the soon-departing Bush administration to some of its oil and gas buddies—by spontaneously bidding nearly $2 million for drilling rights to 22,500 acres. When it (immediately) turned out that DeChristopher didn’t have the cash, nor serious interest in anything but protesting the sale, he was arrested and charged with two felony counts for interfering and making false representations. After lengthy court proceedings he was found guilty this past March—never being allowed to testify as to his motivations. When he arrived in a Salt Lake City courtroom this past week he faced up to ten years in prison and a fine of $1.5 million.
Derogatorily labeled a “prankster” who was “lionized by environmentalists,” DeChristopher has been championed by climate change heroes, including James Hansen and Bill McKibben. Since his arrest the Telluride-based husband/wife filmmaking team of Beth and George Gage have been documenting the struggle. I’ve seen various trailers for their Bidder 70 (the number on the auction paddle used by DeChristopher), and the powerful, soon-to-be-completed film will go a long way to expanding upon his trials and humanize what may for many seem like a distant and solitary act of protest.
He was sentenced to two years, fined $10,000, handcuffed, and transferred to Davis County Jail; his time will be spent in federal prison. Twenty-six protestors outside the court were arrested.
The auctions he interrupted in 2008? Declared “incorrectly administered” in 2009 by the Interior Department, which yanked the land off the auction block.
For more, visit takepart.com.
- Nat Geo Expeditions