Thompson Divide’s beauty worth conserving
The Thompson Divide area is a wild ride, stretching from south of Glenwood Springs to near Ragged Mountain near Marble and west of Carbondale and Basalt nearly to Hightower Mountain near Vega Reservoir.
Its boundaries are saw-toothed edges encompassing 221,500 acres of federal land stretching across parts of Pitkin, Gunnison, Mesa and Delta counties.
Its wealth is in scenery, clean water, big-game habitat and hunting, fishing, hiking and all-terrain-vehicle travel, and, like much of western Colorado, energy reserves.
In 2003, 81 mineral leases were issued in the Thompson Divide. Today, there are 61 active leases in an area covering approximately 105,000 acres.
Half of the leases are in roadless areas and do not contain surface stipulations.
Development of the Thompson Divide has been controversial for many years.
Some outfitters working in the area have left, concerned about diminished hunting opportunities as development pushes roads into wild country and marginalizes big-game habitat.
Recognizing the importance of protecting existing uses in the Thompson Divide area, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act in the U.S. Senate.
Supporters say Bennet’s bill offers a middle-ground solution to the ongoing conversation about the Thompson Divide’s future.
If passed, the legislation would withdraw unleased public minerals in the area and provide an opportunity for existing leases to be retired should they be donated or sold by willing owners.
Chris Wood, the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited since 2010, recently wrote a lengthy opinion piece titled “Conserving Our Natural Heritage in the Thompson Divide.”
The following is an edited version of the article:
“Nearly 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt remarked: ‘There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.’
“To this day, President Roosevelt’s words ring true. Conserving, and, as Roosevelt would be quick to say, promoting our natural heritage, remains a national and local priority.
“Outdoor recreation alone infuses $646 billion into our economy each year. These wildlands are the crucible upon which the character of this nation was formed.
“They have the power to bring together even the unlikeliest bedfellows, united by common purpose and a common concern for the lands and waters that define the nation.
“The Thompson Divide or ‘The Divide,’ as it is known locally, is home to thriving herds of deer and elk and is one of Colorado’s most hunted areas.
“Its pristine creeks feed the gold-medal waters of the Roaring Fork River and provide critical spawning habitat for the river’s rainbow and brown trout and one dozen populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout.
“The Divide’s sprawling backcountry is rich in ecological and natural beauty. Its mid-elevations provide unique refuge and high-value habitat compared to its nearby high-elevation wilderness neighbors.
“The area’s lower elevations also provide superior habitat for many types of wildlife, including deer, moose and the endangered lynx.
“The natural magnificence of the Thompson Divide is matched only by its economic significance to the area.
“This unique landscape supports 300 jobs and nearly $30 million in economic output per year — a sum created through a combination of agricultural operations, hunting, angling, tourism and other activities that have taken root in the Thompson Divide.
“As a result, an unlikely and politically diverse coalition of sportsmen, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, small-business owners and others has come together around the need to protect this very special place from the threat of oil and gas.
“Working with their U.S. Sens. Bennet and Mark Udall, D-Colo., these concerned citizens have forged a middle-road, legislative solution that respects private property rights while enhancing protections that will conserve The Divide for generations to come.
“Trout Unlimited appreciates this approach and has worked with other communities and energy companies in Montana and Wyoming to do something similar.
“The results provide protections for wild country and a way of life and an equitable outcome for the companies that held leases in these areas.
“We believe the same type of outcome can occur in the Thompson Divide and are steadfast in our resolve to see it through to resolution.
“In a time when our politics seem so divided, the common-sense protection of lands like the Thompson Divide presents the chance to provide what President Theodore Roosevelt called ‘common-sense solutions to common problems for the common good.’ ”