Over the years, EcoFlight has flown dozens of flights over the Thompson Divide. This 221,500-acre area of federal land just south of Carbondale, CO is home to critical wildlife habitat for big game, rare native trout and animals like lynx, moose and mountain lion. This backcountry haven is the lifeblood of surrounding communities, who are dependent on the tourism of sportsmen, skiers, motorized recreationists, and it provides critical grazing land to support the local ranching industry. A 2013 economic analysis found that the Thompson Divide supports nearly 300 jobs and $30 million a year in economic value. And baseline water quality testing released in 2014 showed that streams in the area are currently "uncontaminated by any human activities".
In December 2014, the Forest Service released a plan that will guide oil and gas leasing plan for the White River Forest for the next 15-20 years. The EIS closed much of the Thompson Divide to future leasing, and strengthened protections for roadless areas on the White River National Forest. In 2015, the BLM announced its updated Resource Management Plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office, which protects some of the BLM portions of Thompson Creek as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. And in November 2016 the agency canceled 25 illegal leases in the area. The decision however also rolled back protections that were proposed in other areas, and retained 40 existing leases in the area, but is still hailed by conservationists as a solid victory resulting from years of collaboration, advocacy and public involvement.
Many of the original leases in the area were sold controversially, as they were in areas already categorized as roadless, and the leasing lacked sufficient NEPA analysis. Public comments and protests have been prolific and steady with local unanimous approval for withdrawal of the leases. The BLM has admitted that there was not a thorough enough EIS done prior to the original leasing, hence the cancellation of the 25 leases. Local ranchers, businesses and conservationists joined together to stop oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, which would negatively impact the economic, recreational and natural value of the landscape. Many of the leases were due to expire in 2013, but the BLM has continued to satisfy industry requests to grant suspensions, keeping the leases on the books.
EcoFlight has been instrumental in keeping the Thompson Divide in the local and national spotlight with dozens of press flights over the area each year. Our student programs have focused on the issue, giving local students a better understanding of the landscape, and a chance to hear the issue from all sides. Local elected officials from city councils to County Commissioners have joined us for the aerial perspective of the landscape. We have flown Senators Bennet and Udall, and Governor Hickenlooper over the area – both of whom came out publically in support of protecting the Thompson Divide. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act most recently in 2017. The bill would withdraw mineral leases from future oil and gas lease sales. We have provided the aerial perspective to congressional staffers in Washington DC, environmental lawyers, and wildlife biologists, and as a result the term “Thompson Divide” is now widely known amongst public officials in our nation’s capital.
EcoFlight will continue to work with our partners at The Thompson Divide Coalition, Wilderness Workshop, Earthjustice and the ranching community to keep the public informed and engaged in the fight to secure permanent, lasting protections.
This virtual aerial tour gives you that bird's eye view, with google earth technology to enhance your understanding of how this special landscape fits into our area of Colorado.
View this video to hear Student Voices on Drilling Thompson Divide.
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