By JUDY FOX-PERRY

This week the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The CORE Act would protect more than 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, including the Thompson Divide, an area relied upon by local farmers and ranchers that has been threatened by oil and gas leasing.

As ranchers whose livelihood depends on public lands in the Thompson Divide, we couldn’t be more excited for this piece of legislation to receive a hearing in the Senate. For over a decade, local communities in and around the Thompson Divide have collaborated and set aside partisanship to fight against oil and gas development in the area because we understand the tremendous value this landscape holds for our economy and way of life. In fact, ranching, hunting, fishing and recreation activities on the Thompson Divide support and sustain nearly 300 jobs and generate nearly $30 million a year in economic output for local communities.

As ranchers, we can personally speak to the benefits protecting this landscape will have for the agricultural community, including preserving high quality rangeland and protecting access to clean water. For more than 100 years, ranching operations in the area have relied on grazing their cattle on the Thompson Divide in the summer. Federal grazing permits in the Thompson Divide are an integral piece to the ranching industry’s success and helps to strengthen our local economy. Ranchers using these allotments generate nearly $11.3 million in economic value for local communities. Ranching remains a critical piece of our community identity, tying communities of today to our rural and historic past. That is something that folks in western Colorado take great pride in. Small town values, tied to the special lands that surround us.

Ranchers in the region also rely on clean water from the Thompson Divide. The area spans over a dozen watersheds, providing domestic and agricultural water in the Crystal, Roaring Fork, and Colorado River valleys. Our pastures and hay crops depend on irrigation from the Thompson Divide, as well as drinking water for our homes and communities. It also 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 populations all rely on clean water from the Thompson Divide.

Western Colorado has significantly shared in the production of oil and gas for our nation’s energy independence. Regardless, the Thompson Divide is a special place that is far more valuable as it is than if it were developed for oil and gas. If passed, the CORE Act would permanently withdraw this one region from future oil and gas leasing. We applaud the efforts of Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse to include protections for this landscape in the CORE Act, as our lifestyle and livelihoods as ranchers depend on an unspoiled and pristine Divide. It is my hope that the senators of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will listen to voices of ranchers on the Thompson Divide and pass the CORE Act to preserve the agricultural character of this iconic geography and region.

Judy Fox Perry and William Perry have raised their family and ranched on the WaterGap Ranch in the Thompson Divide near Carbondale for over 40 years. She has been on the board of the Thompson Divide Coalition since it began. Robert M. Perry, retired USMC and Aspen Ski Patrol, ranches full time.

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