Guest opinion: CORE Act is best chance yet to protect key back country areas
and David Lien
We speak for ranchers whose livelihoods thrive in-part due to the protected public lands in the Thompson Divide outside of Carbondale, and sportsman whose passions are nurtured by the pristine hunting and fishing habitats in the Continental Divide.
Healthy, unfragmented public lands in the Continental Divide provide some of the best habitat for wildlife and the best back country hunting opportunities in the Central Rockies.
Local ranchers similarly rely on the vast and rugged roadless areas of the Thompson Divide, which provide summer range that keeps local ranchers in business.
We applaud Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse for introducing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. Thank you for your bold and comprehensive vision to safeguard these revered landscapes and support our outdoor recreation economy.
The CORE Act proposes to protect over 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, by uniting four iconic Colorado landscapes into a single bill — including the Continental Divide, Thompson Divide, the San Juan Mountains, and Curecanti National Recreation Area.
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Each of these places boast diverse support from local constituencies including local governments, businesses, ranching, agriculture, and recreation and sportsmen groups. The bill’s protections include establishing new wilderness areas, safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities, and protecting ranching operations and hunting from oil and gas development.
West Slope ranches rely on high-quality summer pastures and clean water from the Thompson Divide. The area spans dozens of watersheds, provides domestic and agricultural water in the Crystal, Roaring Fork, and Colorado River valleys, and supports 8,000 acres of cropland in the North Fork Valley, one of the most productive organic farming regions in the nation.
People, fisheries, livestock, and the area’s wildlife rely on the clean water flowing from the Divide. Local ranchers’ success in producing high-quality food is due to access to these public lands where oil and gas drilling is limited, and ecosystems are undisturbed.
Local communities in and around Thompson Divide have collaborated for over a decade, uniting our diverse public land-use values and setting aside partisanship, to push back against oil and gas development in the area because we recognize the tremendous value the Divide holds for our economy and livelihoods. It provides productive grazing lands, mid-elevation wildlife habitat, and striking natural beauty. The area’s existing values contribute tens of millions of dollars to local economies annually, and supports hundreds of local jobs (Glenwood Springs Post Independent, March 21, 2013).
For these reasons, Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison County’s constituents have spoken time and again that oil and gas development in Thompson Divide is not appropriate, nor compatible with our local agricultural and recreation economy.
Hunters and anglers, as well as numerous other public land users, feel the same way about protecting public lands along the Continental Divide. Wildlife populations along the I-70 corridor have been in steep decline for decades due to poor land use decisions and over-development in some of the best historic habitat.
The CORE Act puts several safeguards in place that support struggling wildlife and big game by protecting habitat for black bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, sage grouse, moose, lynx, wild turkey, elk, deer and wolverine.
Protecting habitat and promoting robust wildlife populations preserves back country hunting, angling and other recreational and tourism opportunities that are funneling big money into our economy.
A 2018 study conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife concluded that hunters and fishermen generate $1.8 billion every year for our state’s economy, supporting 21,000 jobs across Colorado.
Similarly, wildlife watching generated $1.2 billion and supports 12,800 jobs in our state. Without healthy wildlife populations and pristine landscapes, this important part of our economy will disappear. (Vail Daily; Sept. 2, 2018; https://www.vaildaily.com/news/elkonomics-big-game-hunting-is-big-business-in-colorados-high-country/)
Our best chance to permanently protect the Thompson Divide and the Continental Divide is the CORE Act. We hope that Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton will honor their constituents’ decades-long tradition of diverse and non-partisan collaboration throughout the state to protect these areas, by joining all of us in support of the CORE Act.
Bill Fales and his family ranch along side the Crystal River, south of Carbondale. The ranch has been in the family since 1924. They rely on summer grazing permits in the Thompson Divide. David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”
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