Guest opinion: Tipton is wrong on Thompson Divide |

Guest opinion: Tipton is wrong on Thompson Divide

Jason Sewell and his son

I am a father, a husband and a rancher. I am more comfortable on my snowmobile than sitting in a boardroom any day of the week. I don’t much care for politics, but I am compelled to share the following story in response to a recent guest opinion by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

My story begins on April 26, 1893, when President Grover Cleveland signed a homestead patent conveying 161 acres of farmland on the banks of the Crystal River to my great-great grandfather, Miron P. Thompson. That piece of tattered paper formed the foundation of my family’s farming and ranching history in an area that now bears my family name: Colorado’s Thompson Divide.

For five generations, my family has invested — physically, financially and emotionally — in the future of this landscape. We’ve made these investments for our children in hopes of providing them with what they’ll need to press on after we’re gone.

But it’s not just us. Many other families depend on these lands to put food on the table — directly or indirectly. Outfitting, ranching and recreation in the Divide support hundreds of jobs and some $30 million in annual economic benefits, according to independent analysts.

Unfortunately, out-of-state interests threaten to jeopardize my family’s investments and the viability of our operations going forward. Houston-based oil and gas speculators have acquired large swaths of public lands in the Thompson Divide for bottom dollar prices — $2 per acre for the majority of leases in the area.

The threat of development in the Thompson Divide has galvanized our community in unprecedented ways. Snowmobilers and environmentalists, ranchers and mountain bikers, Republicans and Democrats have come together to ask our representatives for help.

These “strange bedfellows” have earned the support of bipartisan town councils throughout the region, and all three affected counties — Garfield, Gunnison and Pitkin. Local governments have joined the chorus of stakeholders asking for a legislative solution to protect the Thompson Divide for future generations of ranchers, hunters and snowmobilers. Heck, even oil and gas industry members have signed on in support of permanent protections for the area.

For nearly a decade now, our coalition has worked to find practical solutions that would protect the Thompson Divide while making leaseholders whole on their modest mineral investments. We’ve focused unremittingly on the middle ground. We’ve pursued solutions that would avoid the long, drawn-out legal battles that have become so pervasive in today’s American West.

We have offered market-based solutions that would avoid the need for BLM lease cancellation. We’ve worked to forge a path that would not require our members of Congress to choose sides. And we’ve only asked for one thing in return: the assurance that our children would not have to go through this again.

Sadly, the political contributions of a few appear to have outweighed my family’s generational investments in this landscape. Congressman Tipton has chosen a side. He’s chosen Texas speculators over his own constituents.

In the recent guest opinion, Mr. Tipton stated that he would not support “legislation that permanently withdraws federal land from future natural resource development inside or outside of the Thompson Divide.”

Congressman Tipton’s position is disheartening, yes, and we hope he changes his mind. But it is not the end of this story.

The U.S. Forest Service recently moved to temporarily protect the majority of the Thompson Divide from future leasing. That decision specifically noted the near-unanimous public and local government support for protecting this area. Now it’s up to us to ensure that the BLM exercises its legal authority to cancel undeveloped, improperly issued leases in the heart of the Divide.

In the absence of a legislative solution, we will press on. We will re-examine our administrative options. We will petition our government for lease cancellation and we will consider permanent, executive solutions that can provide our children with the assurances they deserve.

Jason Sewell is board president of the Thompson Divide Coalition.

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