Tipton public lands bill excludes Thompson Divide | AspenTimes.com

Tipton public lands bill excludes Thompson Divide

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
An aerial view of the Thompson Divide region west of Carbondale.
EcoFlight photo

After months of battling over the CORE Act, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton has released a draft of his own public lands bill, and some are concerned that the Thompson Divide isn’t mentioned.

Tipton’s REC Act, which is focused on the 3rd Congressional District that the Republican represents, bears some similarities to the CORE Act sponsored by two Democrats, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse.

Both bills would protect areas of the San Juan Mountains, establish Curecanti National Recreation Area, and protect 6,590 acres of Naturita Canyon from mineral withdrawal.

But the absence of Thompson Divide protections in the bill suggests Tipton is “not interested in helping out our community even though support for protecting the Divide spans political and social divides,” according to Mike Pritchard, board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition.

According to Tipton’s staff, the reason the proposed removal of the 200,000 or so acres of Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas leasing was not included in the REC Act is because Garfield County’s position remains unclear, and because there are still questions about grazing.

“The biggest hang-up we had was that Garfield County commissioners had retracted their support for mineral withdrawal within the Thompson Divide,” said Matt Atwood, Tipton’s press secretary.

“We had always said to them we wanted all three boards of county commissioners in the affected areas to be on board, or we were not going to be able to get behind it,” Atwood said.

The Garfield County commissioners sent a letter to Bennet and other federal representatives dated July 23 saying they had no objection to the Thompson Divide language in the most recent CORE Act.

But, by the time word of Garfield County’s support came, the rest of the REC Act draft was ready to go, so they decided to release it, according to Tipton’s staff.

In the months since Bennet and Neguse released the CORE Act, Garfield County’s position has shifted.

At first, they declined to support the permanent withdrawal of the Thompson Divide from leasing. But, after working with the bill’s writers to include allowances for methane capture from old coal mines in the region, the commissioners are now supportive of that part of the CORE Act, as it is currently written.

Tipton may see other issues with Thompson Divide withdrawal.

“To my knowledge, there are still other lingering concerns regarding grazing rights that were recently brought to our attention, which is another reason it was left out,” Atwood said.

The CORE Act does not mention grazing, but Atwood said they will discuss the concerns.

Tipton also has expressed concern about the way the CORE Act came about. According to Atwood, Tipton didn’t hear about the bill, which affects his district, until days before Bennet and Neguse released it.

“Throughout the whole process of the CORE Act, my boss was not particularly pleased to be informed of the details on a Friday afternoon, and that the CORE Act would be released on the following Monday, given the large portions of impacted land in our district,” Atwood said.

“Rep. Tipton has made the case for members coordinating or collaborating with other members, especially if they’re going to make public lands designations in another member’s district,” he added.

Tipton’s REC Act also includes expanded protection of the Sangre De Cristo wilderness area, the San Juan Mountains, and Curecanti National Recreation Area.

It also removes 39,000 acres of land from consideration as wilderness designations. Those areas have been deemed unsuitable for wilderness designations, according to the press release.

For locals who have fought for decades to prevent further drilling in the Thompson Divide, Tipton’s bill is a cause for concern.

“We have been asking Tipton for over a decade to hear our voices and protect the Thompson Divide,” Carbondale rancher and Thompson Divide Coalition member Jason Sewell said in a statement.

“The entire community is behind this effort. It is not a political issue; it is about protecting our way of life. A refusal to include the Divide in his public lands bill would be a slap in the face to many of us,” Sewell said.