Tipton hears locals on Thompson Divide support

Advocates encouraged that protections may move forward

Scott Tipton

After an invitation-only meeting with Rep. Scott Tipton in Rifle on Thursday, some see light at the end of the tunnel in the fight to protect Thompson Divide.

Tipton has been criticized for not supporting proposed legislation that would withdraw the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas development. But after hearing from local stakeholders, Tipton said he is more comfortable with the language.

Tipton did not say he would support the Thompson Divide language, but said many of the concerns he had with the bill were alleviated.

“We asked him specifically if there were any other issues that we needed to work on for him to support it, he said no, there weren’t,” said Carbondale rancher Bill Fales, who attended the meeting.

A big part of that change came from Garfield County commissioners. Tipton released a draft bill of his REC Act, addressing public lands within his district without mentioning the Thompson Divide, shortly after Garfield County commissioners wrote a letter stating that, as written, the Thompson Divide language in the separate CORE Act was acceptable.

“When we put the draft together, that was prior to the Garfield County commissioners coming to the conclusion that having the current leasees being able to keep these leases, sell them or trade them (under the proposed language)” was acceptable, Tipton said in an interview.

Commissioner Mike Samson spoke to Tipton and said the county had long supported Thompson Divide protections, and now supported the permanent withdrawal language.

“I think I shared the sentiment of a lot of the people in the room that it was a great meeting,” said Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson, who also attended.

Richardson has been active with the Thompson Divide Coalition recently, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives on the CORE Act earlier this year.

Tipton’s office has said that one reason they didn’t include Thompson Divide language in the REC Act was because some ranchers had brought concerns about grazing protection to the district office in Grand Junction.

The Thompson Divide language in the CORE Act, as proposed by Sen. Michael Bennet and Summit Rep. Joe Neguse, both Democrats, has been mostly unaltered for nearly a decade, and says nothing about grazing rights.

The language is identical to other sections of Tipton’s REC Act that withdraw portions of public lands from oil and gas development.

For rancher Fales, protecting grazing leases was one of the main reasons for the Thompson Divide protections in the first place.

“The idea of it was to protect our grazing leases,” Fales said.

He said he told Tipton as much in the Rifle meeting. “He heard that loud and clear,” Fales said.

After the Rifle meeting, Tipton said he would return to his staff and work with those who had any concerns about the grazing issue.

“Holding these meetings is to be able to make sure that the concerns of important stakeholders are being heard,” Tipton said.

Commissioners from Routt, Gunnison, Eagle and Jackson counties also attended the meeting, along with Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, former Carbondale mayor Stacy Bernot, and others from the Thompson Divide Coalition and outdoor advocacy groups.

“I’m really encouraged, and hope that Rep. Tipton is able to use this conversation to move forward and work with us to move forward to protect the Thompson Divide,” said Thompson Divide Coalition member Julia Morton.

“He seemed really open and receptive to our comments.”

The CORE Act is grinding its way through Congress after several committee meetings. It cleared the House Committee on Natural Resources in June, and has not been taken up in the Senate.

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