Republican state Sen. Perry Will of New Castle has joined up with Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs in issuing a bipartisan letter of support for the Thompson Divide Administrative Withdrawal that’s now under federal review.
The proposed federal mineral withdrawal would administratively withdraw 225,000 acres of the Thompson Divide area south of Glenwood Springs stretching to McClure Pass from future oil and gas leasing mining, under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act for 20 years.
The letter of support brings together two former opponents for the reconfigured House District 57 seat on a common issue of concern in the region.
Last November, Velasco defeated HD57 incumbent Will, who was then appointed to fill the Senate District 5 seat that became open when former Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale announced his retirement.
“We depend on our natural resources for clean air, clean water, and to keep our communities thriving,” Velasco said in a news release announcing their joint support for the Thompson Divide withdrawal. “We must protect public lands as an important part of our way of life, and for the well-being of our future generations.”
Added Will, “In my 40-year career with the Division of Wildlife, I’ve come to intimately know the landscape — and the wildlife — of the Thompson Divide. My fellow hunters and anglers want to see the Divide protected because it’s home to abundant black bears, elk, and one of our state’s last remaining genetically pure strains of cutthroat trout.
“I am proud to join with Rep. Velasco in support of the proposed Administrative Withdrawal, which has brought together people from different vocations, walks of life, and political philosophies.”
The area known as the Thompson Divide encompasses parts of five counties and two national forests, the White River and Gunnison.
The Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have long advocated for the permanent withdrawal of the region from future oil and gas leasing and mineral extraction — as encompassed in the stalled Colorado Outdoors Recreation Act (CORE Act) being sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
Last October, President Biden announced the BLM and US Forest Service would be moving forward with a request to administratively withdraw 225,000 acres of the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas leasing, as well as mining, for 20 years. That proposal received overwhelming support at a standing-room-only public meeting in Carbondale last fall.
“Over 60,000 people took the time to send written comment to BLM articulating their support for the proposed administrative withdrawal of Thompson Divide,” the letter reads. “Supportive comments came from local residents, farmers and ranchers, hunters and fishers, water users, recreationists, wildlife lovers, conservation groups, and thousands upon thousands of other folks from around the country who support protecting the Thompson Divide.”
The Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) was founded by a varied constituency of ranchers and recreationists with a mission to protect the area from oil and gas development.
TDC Board President Jason Sewell of Sunfire Ranch near Carbondale thanked Will and Velasco for their support of the withdrawal effort.
“Elected leaders who are in touch with their constituents know that the Divide is worthy of long-term protection,” Sewell said in the release. “In this particular area, gas and mineral development are incompatible with preserving the historic and current needs for range land, clean water, hunting, and the economic support generated by recreationists to the area.”
Added Wilderness Workshop Campaign Manager Michael Gorman said, “Elected officials from both parties understand just how important these public lands are and we look forward to making the proposed Thompson Divide Administrative Withdrawal a reality.”
The US Forest Service is taking lead on the NEPA analysis for the proposed withdrawal, beginning with a 30-day scoping period in April. A draft Environmental Assessment, including another comment period, would ensue, followed by a formal Record of Decision.