High School Kestrel 2014 - Public Lands

State: Colorado
Region: Western Slope

In May 2014, high school students from Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen, Colorado joined EcoFlight, the Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop for discussions on public lands and how they are managed for resources in the surrounding communities. Students learned about the process through which oil and gas leases are sold, and how the ranching and conservation community has united in the effort to protect the area known as the Thompson Divide. Students flew over the 221,500 acre area of federal land just south of Carbondale, CO which 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 dependent on the tourism of sportsmen, skiers, motorized recreationists, and it provides critical grazing land to support the local ranching industry. From the air, they saw the value of a roadless area and how it acts as a buffer between pristine wilderness and a world-class recreation area to the east, and the heavily industrialized area to the west that is the Piceance Basin.  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".

Students spoke with organizers who are working with a diverse group of stakeholders and their elected officials to protect the area while providing a fair solution to lease holders in the area. Students also flew over oil and gas development near Collbran, CO to see how development impacts the landscape through fragmentation with roads, and dust and light pollution, and to get an idea of what people are trying to protect the Thompson Divide from.

Students also talked about a citizen wilderness proposal which has been introduced by Representative Jared Poils. The proposal is a result of years of work by citizens working to inventory lands suitable for wilderness protection, and boundary adjustments to accommodate different user groups. The latest version of the bill, called the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Bill, was introduced in 2015 and will protect 58,000 acres of wilderness and recreation lands in Summit and eastern Eagle Counties.