Thompson Divide preservation move announced in conjunction with President Biden’s Wednesday designation of Camp Hale National Monument
President Joe Biden’s Wednesday visit to Camp Hale in Eagle County to designate his administration’s first national monument included a major announcement regarding preservation of the Thompson Divide region west of Carbondale.
In addition to the president naming the new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, the White House on Wednesday announced that the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior will propose an initial two-year suspension of new federal oil and gas leases and mining claims within the 225,000 acres that encompass the Thompson Divide.
In addition, the BLM and Forest Service are to seek public comment and conduct a required environmental analysis to assess the impacts of a proposed 20-year withdrawal of new leasing and mining in the respective forest management plans for the area.
A portion of the Thompson Divide that’s part of the White River National Forest is already closed to new drilling, under a 2015 Environmental Impact Statement that directed leasing on the Forest. However, parts of the Thompson Divide region are in the Gunnison/Grand Mesa Uncompahgre National Forests, and are not currently closed to new leases.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service have jointly submitted the petition to fully withdraw the broader Thompson Divide area from leasing to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, according to a White House fact sheet. Secretary Haaland’s acceptance of the petition and publication of a notice in the Federal Register will initiate a two-year segregation.
Withdrawal is a higher degree of protection, as compared to a closure, which can be revisited through another EIS process. A full mineral withdrawal also applies to mining and coal leasing, White River National Forest spokesman David Boyd said.
Several former leases in the Thompson Divide were canceled by the BLM in 2016; a decision that was upheld in court two years later. Pre-existing natural gas leases in the larger area would be unaffected by this proposed mineral withdrawal. Those leases constitute less than 1% of the more than 3,000 active federal leases in Colorado.
The Thompson Divide includes parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Efforts to withdraw mineral leasing from the rugged backcountry began in the mid-2000s when area ranchers, recreational enthusiasts and other local entities banded together to form the Thompson Divide Coalition. The group gathered bipartisan support to urge the Bureau of Land Management to cancel more than a dozen active but undeveloped natural gas leases in the area.
Eventually, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sought permanent withdrawal of the area from future leasing in his CORE Act, which remains pending in Congress.
In August, Sens. Bennet and John Hickenlooper, along with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis, all Democrats, wrote to Biden urging him to declare the Camp Hale monument under the Antiquities Act and to use the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act process to withdraw the Thompson Divide area from leasing.
Area conservation groups and supporters of the Thompson Divide Coalition on Wednesday applauded the move, but called on Congress to pass the CORE Act as a permanent protection.
“As ranchers whose livelihood depends on public lands in the Thompson Divide, we are very excited to see President Biden recognize the importance of this incredible landscape,” ranchers Judy Fox-Perry and William Perry said in a prepared statement issued by the Wilderness Workshop. “We are glad the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are taking steps to conserve these public lands, and we’ll continue our efforts to protect this extraordinary place in every way we can.”
Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and board member of Thompson Divide Coalition, added, “Community members from all walks of life — ranchers, hunters, mountain bikers and conservationists — have set aside partisanship to protect the Thompson Divide and I want to thank President Biden, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service for acknowledging our efforts.”
The mayors of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale also offered comments.
“The Glenwood Springs City Council and our community members have long advocated for the protection of the Thompson Divide — a stunning landscape right in our backyard, but one threatened by oil and gas development,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said. “I appreciate Senator Bennet’s ongoing leadership and commitment to our state’s public lands and the Divide.”
Added Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk, “I’m honored to serve a community of ranchers, outdoors recreationists, hunters and anglers, and conservationists who have made protecting the Thompson Divide a core Carbondale value for years. While we advocate for the passage of the CORE Act in Congress, I’m thrilled to see President Biden and his administration acknowledge the value of this special place and the hard work our community has put into advocating for its protection.”
However, 3rd District Congresswoman U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., reiterated her objection to, what she said in a Wednesday news release, is the latest in a string of Biden administration attacks on American energy and mineral development.
“Shamefully, Biden ignored the concerns and opposition of impacted communities so he could appease Green New Deal extremists,” Boebert said. “Equally troubling, they hid their true motivations and failed to be transparent about the harm and restrictions that will result from this massive land grab. With gas prices skyrocketing, OPEC decreasing its oil production, and Americans already struggling to pay their utility bills, this land grab to shut down American energy and natural resources production could not come at a worse time.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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