Letter: There’s no value in criticizing Thompson coalition | AspenTimes.com

Letter: There’s no value in criticizing Thompson coalition

There’s no value in criticizing Thompson coalition

Environmental activists in Glenwood Springs working against oil and gas development should be commended for drawing important air, water and land-use issues to our attention. However, their criticism of the Thompson Divide Coalition for focusing on the protection of just one area is unjustified.

The Thompson Divide covers almost 350 square miles of magnificent wildlands between Carbondale and Rifle. It is extremely valuable middle-elevation habitat for a vast array of flora and fauna. Moreover, Thompson Divide is a “headwaters” area where many streams feeding pure water into the Crystal and Colorado rivers begin their journey. While we are fortunate to have many higher elevation areas around us protected by permanent wilderness designations, it is middle and lower elevation forests and wildlands like Thompson Divide that are often the most critical for water production and wildlife survival.

The protection of Thompson Divide’s wild places from oil and gas development may ultimately succeed by: 1) pressuring BLM and the Obama administration to reverse the oil and gas leases; 2) litigation in the courts; 3) working with the oil and gas companies to persuade them to allow us to buy out their leases; or 4) a combination of these approaches.

I serve on the board of the Wilderness Workshop, which is focused on all four. The Thompson Divide Coalition has chosen to concentrate most of its efforts on persuading Obama to void the leases, and on Congressional legislation to authorize a voluntary lease buyout. Legislation is an absolutely critical arrow in the quiver of our protection options. Only legislation can authorize a buyout, and only legislation can permanently retire (“withdraw”) the Thompson Divide from future leasing and development.

To date, the Thompson Divide Coalition has done an amazing job of helping turn out valley residents to oppose leasing. It has also spearheaded a bill pending in Congress by Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall to authorize the lease buyout. Legislation has a proven track record. It was used a year ago by the Trust for Public Land near Jackson, Wyo., to buy up tens of thousands of acres of leases and permanently “withdraw” them from development. We need a group like Thompson Divide Coalition that can talk to industry, and try to gain their support for similar buyout legislation here.

In summary, those of us working to protect our wildlands in western Colorado should be thankful that there are myriad groups, small and large, working on different aspects of the problem. We should be pulling with the same oar, not be criticizing each other for trying to do too much, or too little.

Andy Wiessner

Old Snowmass

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