The congressman representing Colorado's Western Slope on Sunday took a legislative hand-off from the Thompson Divide Coalition and promised to introduce legislation to preserve thousands of acres near Carbondale.
U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, has told members of the coalition that he will back legislation to preserve the area known as Thompson Divide, made up of roughly 222,000 acres of public and private land west of Carbondale.
The hand-off was made during a private meeting between the coalition, area elected officials and Salazar in Aspen on Oct. 3, according to a statement issued by Salazar's office.
Those present included Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman and Thompson Divide Coalition board member Dorothea Farris, a former Pitkin County commissioner.
"You have done everything I asked," Salazar told his audience at the meeting. "You got all the stakeholders on board, gathered community support, and the support of Gunnison, Pitkin and Garfield counties."
Noting that "ranching is my passion," the congressman added, "I've heard from countless local ranchers concerned over the quality of water and their ability to sustain their operation. These areas are at the very top of the watershed and thousands of downstream water users and ranching operations depend on these precious water resources for their survival."
Besides the support of the three counties named, the coalition has won the endorsement of the cities of Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, numerous environmental and sporting associations, and the North Thompson Cattle Association.
Among the goals outlined by Salazar and the members of the Thompson Divide Coalition is to protect local water, wildlife and land through both legislation and by agreements with energy companies to either allow existing natural-gas and oil leases to expire, or to be purchased by conservation groups.
Salazar spokesman Eric Wortman said that it is possible, but not likely, that the legislation drafted by the coalition will be introduced during the lame-duck session of Congress before the end of this year.
It is more likely, he said, that a bill will be introduced in the 112th Congress next year.