Community Celebrates 20 Years of Protections for the Thompson Divide

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Community Celebrates 20 Years of Protections for the Thompson Divide

Date: 04/03/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: Keri Gilliland     Publication: The Wilderness Society    

Original Post ➡️

Thompson Divide with snow. EcoFlight

The withdrawal is the result of a decade and a half of strong community collaboration

Carbondale, CO – Earlier today, the Department of the Interior announced the finalization of the Thompson Divide Administrative Mineral Withdrawal, which will protect 225,000 acres of public lands in western Colorado from future oil and gas leasing and mining for the next 20 years. 

The withdrawal is the result of a decade and a half of strong community collaboration — local ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists and businesses are celebrating this historic win for local public lands. 

The Thompson Divide stretches south from Glenwood Springs through the Sunlight Ski Resort, across McClure and Kebler passes, and all the way to Crested Butte, including Mt. Emmons. 

“This is a long, long time coming. Wilderness Workshop and local communities have been working for over a decade to safeguard this incredible landscape,” said Will Roush, Executive Director of Wilderness Workshop. “This mineral withdrawal will provide much deserved and long lasting protection to the Thompson Divide, an area filled with immense aspen groves, vast roadless lands, community watersheds, and rich wildlife habitat. Preserving this ecologically intact ecosystem reflects the will of local communities and is critical for the state’s biological connectivity and biodiversity.” 

In 2009, the Thompson Divide Coalition, comprised of ranchers, recreationalists and conservationists, joined together to fight the threat of oil and gas development, generating strong community support in the process from local businesses, governments and from public land users across the country. 

In the ensuing decade, the movement gained momentum, prompted the introduction of federal legislation, and convinced the White River National Forest to close much of the area to new oil and gas leasing. 

“For six generations my family has operated Sunfire Ranch at the base of the Thompson Divide. Protecting Thompson Creek and the remote areas on the Divide benefits all of us, helping ranchers, wildlife, and our local economy thrive,” said Jason Sewell, rancher and fifth-generation steward of Sunfire Ranch. “Ranchers and farmers joined together with mountain bikers, hunters, business owners and recreationists in support of an administrative withdrawal. We congratulate the BLM and Forest Service for hearing the voices of Western Colorado and for taking this important action to protect the Divide.”

Federal law provides the Secretary of the Interior authority to administratively withdraw lands from mining and oil and gas leasing for a period of up to 20 years. In October 2022, President Biden ordered his administration to initiate a public process for an administrative withdrawal, which concluded with Secretary Haaland’s decision today. We thank President Biden, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and BLM Colorado State Director Doug Vilsack for their bold action to protect this cherished landscape.

In addition to hunting units that generate over 20,000 big-game licenses each year, the Divide provides important recreational opportunities for climbers, bikers, anglers, equestrians and hikers. The area supports more than 300 jobs and generates more than $30 million each year in economic benefits to the local economy. 

Linking wildlands east of Grand Junction to the Elk Mountains, the Divide is a known important migration corridor for lynx, moose, elk, deer, bear and mountain lions. Forty-nine percent of the Thompson Divide—about 110,600 acres—is one of Colorado’s most important ecosystems according to reports, and 34,000 acres in the Divide receive top scores for ecological connectivity, which means high-value, unfragmented habitat. Beyond the strong local support for protecting the Divide, the landscape has garnered statewide and national attention for its significance to the state’s old west ranching culture, and the importance of protecting large landscapes for climate resilience. 

“Coloradans take pride in our treasured public lands. For the next 20 years, we can be assured the Thompson Divide will benefit from clean air, clear streams and intact wildlife habitat,” said Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director for The Wilderness Society. “We applaud the Biden Administration for heeding the calls of Coloradans to protect a critical landscape which sustains our lives, communities and economy.”

While the administrative withdrawal would provide important interim protections for the next 20 years, permanent protection of the Divide would be secured with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The CORE Act has passed the House several times and was recently favorably reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support. Conservation groups, sportspeople and ranchers in the Thompson Divide are continuing to support efforts to ensure the CORE Act gets passed.