Third District not united for Thompson Divide

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A delegation of Roaring Fork Valley officials and advocates for the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale attended a U.S. House committee hearing Tuesday to consider the CORE Act.
Provided/Office of Congressman Joe Neguse

U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton highlighted the differing opinions on legislation that would withdraw Thompson Divide from oil and gas leasing during a committee hearing Tuesday.

Four Roaring Fork Valley residents active in the Thompson Divide Coalition traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the hearing and advocate for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act during a hearing on the legislation. The bill includes protections for the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale.

“We’ve heard that there is, and I’ve spoken to a lot of folks that are supportive of the concepts that are in the CORE Act,” Tipton said in the hearing, which was broadcast online.

“I think it is important to note that we do have differing opinions that are in my district, that may not have had their voices heard in development of some of this legislation,” Tipton said.

Tipton mentioned the Garfield County commissioners, who voiced concerns over the proposed permanent withdrawal of the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas leases in February.

Tipton did not outright voice his opposition to the act, but noted the U.S. Forest Service’s opposition to the withdrawal, which would “have adverse effects on current (oil and gas) lease holders and would not be consistent with the current Forest plan,” according to the testimony of David French, acting deputy chief of the National Forest System.

Advocates of the Thompson Divide withdrawal consider the coalition to be remarkably diverse, including outdoor recreation enthusiasts, ranchers, hunters and fishers.

Current Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson and former Mayor Stacey Bernot attended the hearing in Washington, D.C., along with leaders from several other towns and counties and a number of Roaring Fork Valley residents who are active in the Thompson Divide Coalition.

In a statement, Richardson touted the unity surrounding the issue.

“Rarely does one issue unify a community like the effort to protect the Thompson Divide over the last decade,” Richardson said.

“We have a history of extraction, and we’ve been through the boom and the bust that goes with that,” Bernot said in a statement. “We now have an opportunity to create our own destiny and bring long-term, sustainable jobs to the area.

“We want to be able to preserve the Thompson Divide for our local economy and for the livelihoods the land supports. This is more than our backyard. It’s our home and our livelihoods.”

Carbondale rancher Bill Fales and Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association, also attended the hearing.

The CORE Act was introduced in the House by Rep. Joe Neguse and proposed in the Senate by Sen. Michael Bennet, both Democrats.

Utah Rep. John Curtis, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the process of introducing the CORE Act, and particularly the Thompson Divide portion of legislation, was unfair to Tipton.

“Congressman Tipton was not consulted on this legislation, and in fact did not even hear about this bill until the day it was publicly announced,” Curtis said at the beginning of the hearing.

Though not a member of the committee, Tipton was allowed to participate and ask questions of witnesses.

Denver Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, who also was granted permission to participate in the hearing, said she intends to reintroduce the Colorado Wilderness Act, which, among other things, would designate part of the Thompson Divide along Assignation Ridge as wilderness area.

DeGette introduced the same bill in 2018, but it didn’t make it out of subcommittees.