Kessler leaving Thompson Divide Coalition for Colorado River District job | PostIndependent.com

Kessler leaving Thompson Divide Coalition for Colorado River District job

Zane Kessler on horseback in the Thompson Divide area during one of his many visits to the backcountry region while heading the Thompson Divide Coaltion.

Zane Kessler, who helped shepherd efforts by the Thompson Divide Coalition over the past four years to persuade federal land managers to cancel oil and gas leases in the backcountry west of Carbondale, is leaving the organization.

Kessler informed TDC board members, friends and colleagues this week that he is resigning as executive director for the coalition to take a new job as communications director for the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs.

"I am incredibly proud of all that our communities have done to conserve and protect this 'great, wild country' for future generations of ranchers, sportsmen, outfitters and recreationalists. It's been a privilege," Kessler wrote in an email message.

Kessler started Tuesday in the newly created position of communications director for the river district, and will be working on state-level water policy issues along with the district's external affairs staff.

"I'm thrilled to continue working with Western Slope stakeholders — including some strange bedfellows — on issues affecting one of America's most iconic rivers," Kessler continued in the note.

Kessler often uses the "strange bedfellows" term to describe the diverse group of ranchers, fishermen, hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, elected officials and conservationists who came together to form the TDC in the late 2000s.

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It was that diversity of opinions and their varying interests in working to prevent further oil and gas development in the roughly 200,000-acre expanse of U.S. Forest and BLM land west of Carbondale that convinced the BLM last year to ultimately cancel 25 undeveloped leases held by two energy companies.

The TDC also had a crucial hand in convincing White River National Forest long-range planners to close off the region to new oil and gas leasing under a new 20-year leasing management plan released in 2015.

"I will continue to be active with the coalition in a volunteer capacity," Kessler told the Post Independent on Wednesday. "The organization will remain in place and will continue to actively monitor any new development there.

"I always knew this day was coming, and my job was really to work myself out of a job," he added. "I felt like I've come as far as I can in that effort."

TDC board member Chuck Ogilby said the coalition intends to keep Kessler's number close at hand.

"We anticipate that he will still be engaged with the coalition from time to time as needed, just with his expertise and his contacts in Washington," Ogilby said. "We don't know at this time what that might entail, but it's good to know he's not going far."

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director for the Wilderness Workshop, also based in Carbondale and also deeply involved in the effort to protect the Thompson Divide area, said Kessler had a unique ability to wrangle the diverse interests that made up the coalition and reach consensus on how to proceed.

"He brought a disciplined and strategic approach to addressing leasing issues in the Thompson Divide, and was able to get everyone to row in the same direction," Shoemaker said.

That often meant butting heads with his and other organizations that had similar but often much broader views regarding the protection of wild lands in the region.

"He was the right guy for the job at that critical time," Shoemaker said.

He said the Wilderness Workshop also fully intends to work side by side with the TDC and others to keep tabs on legal challenges to the BLM's decision regarding the canceled leases and continued efforts to develop other leases in the region.

Meanwhile, Kessler was already at the state Capitol in Denver this week listening in on the interim water committee hearings on behalf of the Colorado River District.

"I think the lessons learned with the coalition have served me well, and I can carry that to serving with stakeholders on Colorado River issues," he said.

That includes making sure Colorado River watershed interests continue to be protected in the implementation of the statewide water plan, Kessler said.

Recently, Kessler had been splitting his time between Carbondale and New Haven, Connecticut, where his wife, Lucy, has been working on her graduate degree. But the plan was to remain in the Roaring Fork Valley if the opportunity presented itself, he said.

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