Efforts to permanently protect the Thompson Divide advanced this month when the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act received a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee. The CORE Act would, in part, permanently withdraw the Divide from future leasing. Similar legislation has previously been introduced in Congress, but this was the first formal hearing. This is also the first time protective legislation for the Divide has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
Overall, the hearing was positive. Dan Gibbs, director of Colorado's Department of Natural Resources, offered compelling testimony in support of the legislation. He acknowledged support for the bill from Colorado's governor and a long list of local governments. Diverse stakeholders from our local communities, including elected officials, ranchers, and mountain bikers, made the trip to Washington to show their support. Congressman Scott Tipton himself acknowledged much support for the bill.
Unfortunately, Rep. Tipton also made less positive comments. He and Utah Congressman John Curtis used the hearing to attack the bill's sponsor, Congressman Joe Neguse, and to sow doubt about how well-vetted the legislation really is. These efforts were nothing more than transparent politicking from Republicans who consistently resist public land protection. The comments ignored years of work by the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), local governments, and so many other stakeholders to gain Rep. Tipton's support for permanent protection of the Divide and to help craft this thoughtful legislation.
Congressman Curtis suggested that the CORE Act was hurried into Congress without consulting Congressman Tipton. That claim is false. The CORE Act includes four articles, each protecting a unique swath of public land in the state. Each article represents a bill that was previously introduced in Congress.
In response to requests from local governments (including Garfield, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties), which asked for federal legislation to protect the Divide with a permanent mineral withdrawal, the first iteration of the CORE Act's Thompson Divide article was drafted and considered for introduction by Rep. Tipton's predecessor in the House 10 years ago. In 2013 and again in 2017, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act. Prior to each introduction he engaged local communities, counties and stakeholders. In response to stakeholder feedback, the legislation was modified; boundaries were adjusted and credits were added for leaseholders. Over the years, hundreds of stakeholder support letters were presented directly to Congressman Tipton with requests for him to engage.
Rep. Tipton has been aware of efforts to protect the Divide since he was elected. To protest the legislation on policy grounds is one thing, but to pretend not to know is another. At the very least, it is disingenuous to his constituents who care deeply about this issue. The fact is, Scott Tipton has been repeatedly asked to help protect the Divide, and he has refused. To date, Rep. Tipton's only notable response was in 2016 when he floated a bill drafted by SG Interests that would have given the company new leases with 10-year terms in more prospective areas outside the Thompson Divide. SG Interests is a Texas oil company with leases in the Divide, and one of Tipton's biggest political donors. The proposal shifted the drilling threat from Carbondale and Glenwood Springs to the North Fork Valley, where the idea was met with resounding opposition. After furious public backlash, the proposal died. Rep. Tipton's proposal was clearly responsive to SG Interests. It was not responsive to stakeholders in his district who would be most directly impacted. His proposal included no permanent protection for the Divide and it thrust the problem we are working to solve onto another unwilling community in his district.
In truth, Rep. Tipton has chosen to ignore the will of the great majority of his constituents. He hasn't listened to us. Local communities and diverse stakeholders have advocated for protection of the Divide for years and spent more than a decade crafting this legislation. Scott Tipton has barely engaged. When he has engaged it's been on behalf of Texas oil companies rather than the communities he was elected to represent. Rep. Tipton has an opportunity to change that by supporting this well-vetted, broadly supported bill. We hope he will start listening and join the effort to permanently protect these public lands.
The Thompson Divide's important wildlife habitat, clean air and water, grazing lands, and outstanding hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities should be protected forever. That is what we've asked for, and — given the value of these lands to our communities — it makes sense.
Judy Fox Perry lives on a ranch reliant on irrigation water from the Thompson Divide and has been involved in efforts to protect the Thompson Divide since the beginning as a founding member and current board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
Michael Hassig, a Carbondale-based architect, was the Mayor of Carbondale from 2002 to 2010. In 2009 and 2010 he joined with other local government leaders in formally asking legislators to protect the Divide with a permanent mineral withdrawal.