Roush: Unified more than ever for Thompson Divide
The work to protect public lands is not always glamorous, but, on occasion, it pulls at your heartstrings in unexpected ways. Wednesday night found me — along with over a hundred members of our community — at a joint Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service meeting to kick off a process to protect the Thompson Divide with an administrative mineral withdrawal that would prevent any new oil and gas leasing for 20 years.
The room was packed, and our incredible community of public-lands lovers — of cowboys and conservationists, of business owners and elected officials — let its voice be heard loud and clear! The overwhelming sentiment at this standing-room-only meeting was that people remain unified for the Thompson Divide, and there is strong support for the proposed withdrawal.
Already this year, the “Unified for Thompson Divide” campaign, whose goal is permanently protecting 225,000 acres of public lands stretching from Glenwood to Crested Butte, has had a remarkable year.
Federal legislation to prevent future oil and gas leasing — the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act — passed the House of Representatives for the fifth time and reached a high-water mark when it received a vote and passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Despite overwhelming support, congressional dysfunction stymied final passage, and, as a result, Colorado leaders called on President Joe Biden to take administrative action. Our years of community advocacy paid off, and he did!
Wednesday’s public meeting in Carbondale was a chance for the agencies to see how local people felt about the proposed withdrawal.
The answer was clear: When asked to stand if people at the meeting supported the withdrawal and protection of the divide, the room rose to its feet. A huge thank you to the many familiar faces I saw — whether you signed our action alerts, attended a hike or rally, talked with friends and family, or joined us at other meetings over the years. You made this possible!
If you weren’t able to join, don’t worry: There will be additional, important opportunities to show support. This meeting set the tone and created important momentum for future efforts, and I know we’ll call on our community again in the future. You can take action before the Jan. 17 deadline on the Wilderness Workshop website or by submitting your own comment to the BLM.
To be clear, while an administrative mineral withdrawal would provide important interim protections for the next 20 years, it wouldn’t have the permanence of a legislative congressional withdrawal. But, it would provide strong protections above and beyond what we’ve secured to date, and it would protect the divide while we work with congressional leaders — Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Joe Neguse — toward passage of the CORE Act.
The Thompson Divide still contains existing oil and gas leases that could be developed. Wilderness Workshop is working hard to not only prevent any development on these leases, but also to permanently remove them from our public lands.
Over a decade ago, when the Thompson Divide Coalition formed and we began our work, over 100,000 acres had been leased to oil and gas companies. The threat of drilling brought together people from all walks of life and political persuasions who agreed this special place should be protected. Today, the vast majority of those leases are gone, no new drilling or leasing has occurred, and 20 years of protections could soon be in place.
It is inspiring to see how unified our community has been for the divide, and I am grateful to everyone for turning out over and over again. I am also thankful to our federal-land managers who heard this unanimous support and responded by moving forward with the administrative mineral withdrawal. I’m confident our community will continue to rally and remain forever, unified for Thompson Divide!
Will Roush is the executive director at Wilderness Workshop, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the wilderness, water, and wildlife of Western Colorado’s public lands. When not in the office, you can most often find Will, his wife, Margaret, and their two children out on public lands.