Guest column: We rely on this land
Nearly 110 years ago, during a brief stop before embarking on a monthlong hunting trip in Colorado’s Thompson Divide area, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed a small crowd of well-wishers in New Castle. In his remarks, the president declared that Colorado “is going to be one of the greatest states in the nation.”
Those of us lucky to live here would be hard-pressed to disagree with Roosevelt’s assessment of the Centennial State. Our peaks and valleys, rivers, streams and rugged expanses give way to scenic landscapes that attract visitors from near and far. But it was not Colorado’s natural beauty alone that caught Roosevelt’s attention — though it surely couldn’t have hurt. Colorado’s potential for greatness, he said, was “not merely in its material development but in its type of citizenship.”
Citizenship is the idea that our duty is not only to ourselves but also to one another, to our community and to generations that come after us. It’s with that idea in mind that folks from across Colorado’s Western Slope — from all walks of life — have come together to conserve and protect nearly 220,000 acres of pristine public lands that make up Colorado’s Thompson Divide.
With Houston-based oil and gas companies on Thompson Divide’s doorstep, an unlikely patchwork of concerned residents, local governments and statewide elected officials have coalesced around a common cause of keeping Thompson Divide as it is — and for good reason. The divide, as it is known locally, yields tremendous economic benefits to individuals and our community as a whole: nearly 300 jobs and $30 million in economic activity per year, according to independent analysts.
In other words, people rely on this land for their livelihoods, be they ranching, hunting, angling or recreation. Conserving Thompson Divide isn’t only an environmental concern; it’s an economic one, as well. And speaking of economics, as the daughter of a coal miner and a fifth-generation Western Slope native, I believe extractive industries are an important part of Colorado’s economy, but Western Colorado is undoubtedly doing its part to provide our nation with natural gas.
The U.S. Forest Service recently issued a conservation-minded decision to protect Thompson Divide from future mineral leasing. In doing so, the agency helped to establish an important balance that our communities have been seeking for decades. Its decision recognized the divide’s “singularity as a special place” and the multiple uses on the land that already support our local economies.
Reaching back to Roosevelt’s example, the community-based effort to conserve Thompson Divide also is about what we are leaving behind: the idea that we have an obligation not just to provide for ourselves but to balance our needs with the needs of future generations, as well. If our community is successful in conserving Thompson Divide, we will have done far more than preserve pristine public lands. We also will have passed on a legacy of citizenship that has served as a source of greatness for more than a century.
In a time when our country’s politics seem so divided, the conservation of public lands in Thompson Divide provides a refreshing example of how communities can come together, in unified fashion, to achieve what Roosevelt called “common-sense solutions to common problems for the common good.”
Stacey Bernot, the mayor of Carbondale, is a fifth generation Carbondale native who advocates for Thompson Divide conservation.