Guest column: President Biden, the time is now to protect the Thompson Divide
For six generations, Sunfire Ranch has been a working ranch — this land has yielded countless traincars of potatoes, more sheep and cattle than we can count and a cornucopia of produce. But. perhaps more importantly, it’s also grown stewards of the land. And, specifically, stewards of the Thompson Divide — a 200,000 acre landscape filled with wildlife and wonder that abuts Sunfire Ranch. But, I’m not writing today to describe this incredible place — anyone who lives nearby knows how magnificent these public lands and waters are.
I’m writing to applaud Colorado leaders — Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Rep. Joe Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis — who are calling on Pres. Biden and his administration to protect the landscapes in the proposed Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act legislation through executive action. In addition to the Thompson Divide, this includes a Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument that would honor 10th Mountain Division veterans.
The executive action proposed for the Thompson Divide is a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal. This means the U.S. Department of the Interior would begin a process that would stop any new oil and gas leasing in the entirety of the divide; this would proceed while the legislative process for a permanent withdrawal is completed. Right now, the White River National Forest portion of the divide is protected under the Forest Plan (Though, this protection is only temporary and could be removed), and the Gunnison National Forest portion remains unprotected. An administrative withdrawal is the same approach used by communities and the administration to protect land surrounding the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
I deeply appreciate Sen. Bennet’s leadership to protect the lands within the CORE Act and hard work to provide certainty for our local community — and all who love for and help steward the Thompson Divide — for the next 20 years. This certainty ensures our livelihoods can continue, our wildlife can prosper, and beloved places won’t be sacrificed for short-term profit.
This proposed administrative withdrawal is an important step forward for the Thompson Divide. And, I know our leaders will keep fighting to pass the full CORE Act, which would permanently protect the divide and the other landscapes. I look forward to Pres. Biden acting promptly — we’ve worked so hard to build community support and would be honored to send an iconic “Unified for Thompson Divide” sign to our latest supporter at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Jason Sewell is a rancher and the fifth-generation steward of Sunfire Ranch. He is a Board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition, whose mission is to secure permanent protection from oil and gas development on Federal lands in the Thompson Divide.
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