An environmental foundation controlled by employees of Aspen Skiing Co. gave a $50,000 grant to three organizations fighting to prevent natural gas drilling in Thompson Divide, Skico announced Thursday.
The grant was the largest in the 16-year history of the Environment Foundation. It was split among Wilderness Workshop, Thompson Divide Coalition and EcoFlight.
The board of directors of the Environment Foundation felt this is a crucial time in the effort to preserve the 220,000 acres of public lands in Thompson Divide so it sought ways to best utilize the money available and “move the needle” on the issue, said Matthew Hamilton, executive director of the foundation.
An analysis earlier this year by The Aspen Times of the grants awarded by the Environment Foundation showed at least $300,000 had been given over the last decade to protect parts of Colorado from oil and gas development.
The foundation has given another $92,000 in grants to organizations or efforts to promote alternative energy and climate policy that reduces greenhouse-gas emissions.
The grants are typically given in smaller amounts than those awarded to the conservation groups this spring, Hamilton said. Wilderness Workshop and Thompson Divide Coalition were given $20,000 each; EcoFlight was awarded $10,000. EcoFlight flies policy makers and members of the media over public lands that are in some way at risk of being altered. Wilderness Workshop is pursuing legal action to prevent gas development in Thompson Divide. The Thompson Divide Coalition is trying to negotiate with oil and gas companies to buy their holdings in Thompson Divide. The groups work closely with one another.
Hamilton said the issue has grabbed national attention and has national significance. “It’s about whether we want to convert multiple-use land with huge economic benefit to single-use,” he said. “It’s about where we ought to drill and where we should weigh competing benefits.
“That why the board felt it was appropriate to uncork such a big grant.”
The grants are a major financial infusion for each of the relatively small conservation groups. “We’re going to have to pull out all the stops to save the Thompson Divide in the coming year, so this grant is a powerful boost coming at just the right time,” Dave Reed, development director of Wilderness Workshop said in prepared statement.
The organizations are required to use the grants for efforts tied to Thompson Divide but otherwise don’t face restrictions, Hamilton said.
The Environment Foundation is funded through voluntary contributions given by Skico employees. “Substantial support” is given by the Aspen Community Foundation and Skico’s Family Fund, according to the website for the foundation. A board of directors comprised by Skico employees decides how to spend the funds.
The foundation typically gives between $100,000 and $120,000 in its fall and spring grant cycles, according to Hamilton. It awarded $118,000 in grants in April, including the $50,000 for the Thompson Divide battle. The other $68,000 went to:
• The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, general Operating Support (with support from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters), $7,500.
• Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Elk Mountains Fourteeners Trail Maintenance and Data Collection Project, $5,142.
• Colorado Mountain Club, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Campsite Rehabilitation Project, $5,000.
• Conservation Colorado Education Fund, Protecting Public Lands and Wilderness in Colorado’s Central Mountains, $5,000.
• High Country News, Reporting on Energy Development in Western Colorado (with support from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters), $10,000.
• Public Counsel of the Rockies, Crystal River Restoration/In-Stream Flow Preservation Collaborative (with support from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters), $10,000.
• Red Hill Council, 2013 Red Hill Trail Maintenance & Improvement Project (with support from Swire Coca-Cola), $6,000.
• Roaring Fork Conservancy, Crystal River Watershed – Assessment and Design of Restoration Projects, $9,321.
• Roaring Fork High School Energy Club, increase the amount of recycling opportunities on the campus, reduce the amount of single-use water bottles, and decrease the amount of energy used on school grounds (with support from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters), $3,000.
• Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, 2013 Trail Projects, $8,000.