CARBONDALE, Colorado - Outdoor activities and other endeavors in the Thompson Divide area generate close to 300 jobs and have more than a $30 million annual economic impact, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC).
The study, compiled by BBC Research of Denver, deliberately did not include any potential jobs or economic effects that might be generated by oil and gas drilling activities, according to TDC Director Zane Kessler.
Instead, he continued, the focus of the study was on the economic benefits that might be diminished or lost should oil drilling be allowed in the area.
The energy industry has made plans to drill for natural gas in the Thompson Divide region, which contains more than 221,000 acres of mostly public lands and extends into five counties - Garfield, Pitkin, Gunnison, Delta and Mesa.
A total of 61 active claims are spotted around roughly 105,000 acres of the Thompson Divide area, many of them in designated roadless areas, according to the TDC.
The TDC, formed in 2009 and headquartered in Carbondale, has been fighting the industry's efforts to drill in the area. The coalition members, who include ranchers, sportsmen, business owners and recreationists, have said they doubt there is enough natural gas in the area to warrant the industrialization of a relatively untouched area of the national forest.
With the new study, Kessler said, comes further evidence that "this area should be protected for the existing values and uses of the land."
A breakdown of the economic effects detailed in the study, Kessler said, shows the following specific impacts:
• Backcountry recreation in the area contributes to 138 jobs and $12.6 million in spending;
• Hunting and fishing activities support 92 jobs and $8.3 million in spending;
• Grazing and other ranching activities in Thompson Divide generate $11 million in economic output and 64 jobs.
Backing Kessler up in a telephone conference about the study were Stacey Bernot, mayor of Carbondale; Leo McKinney, a Glenwood Springs council member; Ford Frick, a researcher with the BBC Research; Aaron Kindle, member of Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project; and Auden Schendler, a vice president for the Aspen Skiing Co.
Remarking about an ongoing spill event along Parachute Creek, where pipelines and tanks are laid beneath the ground, Kessler said it should serve as a warning.
"Accidents happen, no matter how well-regulated or how careful you are," he said, citing a 2011 water quality study, also commissioned by TDC, that found the water coming out of the Thompson Divide drainage to be exceptionally clean.
Others gave different reasons for opposing the drilling.
"From what we've learned, we don't want a repeat of the boom-and-bust cycle that we've had for much of our history," commented Bernot, while Kindle noted that Thompson Divide is home to several populations of rare cutthroat trout that he said would be endangered by industrialized activity.
"Every little population that we can hold onto is critical to keeping that fish as a viable species," he declared.
Schendler, noting that there are more likely spots to drill around Garfield County, argued that the economy of the Roaring Fork Valley needs to remain diversified.
"This drilling up Thompson Divide seems to be burning up the furniture to heat the house," concluded Schendler.
Not short on metaphors, Schendler added, "We have a golden goose here. Why would we kill it?"
Kessler said he will be distributing the study to the TDC membership, local governments and anyone interested in reading it.