Study could lead to protection of Thompson Divide

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Study could lead to protection of Thompson Divide

Date: 12/09/2023     Category: News & Media     Author: Scott Condon     Publication: Aspen Daily News    

Original Post ➡️

A view of the Thompson Divide area southwest of Carbondale from an airplane flown by Aspen-based EcoFlight. An environmental assessment supports withdrawing 225,000 acres from energy development and mineral extraction. Courtesy of EcoFlight

The U.S. Forest Service on Friday released a draft environmental assessment that favors withdrawing nearly 225,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development and mining.

The draft EA said withdrawing the federal lands from extraction would have no significant impact. On the contrary, withdrawing the lands would prevent the development of up to four well pads that would serve seven to eight wells with no major restrictions, the study said. It’s possible that up to seven pads serving 12 to 13 wells could be developed in the targeted area.

The EA moves the debate closer to the desired outcome for a coalition of ranchers, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and environmentalists. They have been fighting to limit the amount of oil and gas development and mineral extraction in the Thompson Divide area since 2009.

“We are very excited to see the Forest Service moving ahead with the proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal for the Thompson Divide and we are hopeful the agency will act quickly to finalize these important protections that our community has requested for many years,” Will Roush, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, said in a prepared statement. “The Thompson Divide is a special place for people and communities not just on the Western Slope, but across Colorado. The breadth and depth of support for long-term protection of the Divide is incredibly inspiring and the draft EA released today directly reflects that.”

Wilderness Workshop noted that more than 73,500 comments were submitted in support of banning future oil and gas leases in Thompson Divide as part of the Forest Service’s environmental review. The Fales family, ranchers in the Crystal River Valley with a grazing allotment in Thompson Divide, were among supporters of the withdrawal.

“Ranchers in the Thompson Divide have been united for a long time to protect the public lands, which are essential to our operations within the broader community. This mineral withdrawal gives us a chance to secure meaningful protections now,” Molly Fales said in the statement released by Wilderness Workshop.

However, the EA doesn’t guarantee the withdrawal of the lands will occur. That decision rests with the U.S. secretary of interior. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management applied in 2022 to withdraw the lands in Thompson Divide for a period of 20 years. An environmental review was required before the secretary could act.

In addition, the withdrawal won’t prohibit all energy development in the Thompson Divide area.

“There are 22 active oil and gas leases that are in or partially in the boundaries of the withdrawal application area,” the EA said. “These leases constitute valid existing rights and will not be affected by the withdrawal.”

The area covered by the withdrawal is much larger than the initial Thompson Divide boundaries, which stretched south of Glenwood Springs and included lands southwest of Carbondale. Under this application, the withdrawal boundary extends south to public lands west of Crested Butte, including Mt. Emmons. It includes lands in the counties of Pitkin, Garfield, Delta and Gunnison.

The EA said some commenters wanted a permanent withdrawal of the lands. That wasn’t possible, the EA said, because the secretary of interior can only rule on withdrawal applications for up to 20 years on properties more than 5,000 acres. A permanent withdrawal would require an act of Congress.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will host a virtual public meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Dec. 18. The meeting will include a short presentation explaining the requested withdrawal and draft environmental assessment, a question-and-answer session, and information on how to submit public comments. People can register for the meeting at

More information about the requested withdrawal and how to submit comments is available at Comments on the draft environmental assessment should be directed to the Forest Service and will be accepted through Jan. 8, 2024.

The EA said the lands in Thompson Divide have high value for recreation, grazing, hunting and fishing. Recreational uses range from mountain biking to wildflower viewing.

“Recreation facilities provided by the USFS and BLM in the withdrawal application area include 7 campgrounds, 22 trailheads, 3 picnic areas, multiple road pull-offs or informational sites, approximately 140 miles of non-motorized trail, and approximately 66 miles of motorized trails,” the EA said. The Lake Irwin Campground and Lost Lake Campground are among popular spots near Crested Butte that are in the proposed withdrawal area. The 600-acre Oh Be Joyful Recreation Area is also within the boundaries.

A decision by the interior secretary is anticipated in late 2024.