The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) have scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday, Dec. 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Carbondale Firehouse (300 Meadowood Drive). The purpose of the meeting is to provide information and hear public feedback on the proposed federal administrative withdrawal of oil and gas and mineral leasing on a vast area of public lands in the Thompson Divide area west and southwest of the Roaring Fork Valley.
The official notice of the administrative withdrawal was given jointly by the BLM and FS on Oct. 17, after it had been publicly announced five days earlier at Camp Hale during its dedication as a new national monument. That began a 90-day public comment period, which will end on Jan. 16, 2023. The Dec. 14 meeting is part of that process.
The proposed area for the withdrawal, consisting of nearly 225,000 acres in southeastern Garfield, western Pitkin and northwestern Gunnison counties, stretches southward from just south of Glenwood Springs and west of Carbondale and Marble to just south of Crested Butte. It also includes two smaller units a little farther south along the western Gunnison County line.
An “administrative withdrawal” is an action that can be taken by the executive branch of the federal government to prohibit new leases for oil and gas extraction and other mining activities on public lands for a period of 20 years. However, it does not affect a small number of previously granted leases in the Divide region. The withdrawal is also not permanent; that can be accomplished only by an act of Congress signed by the president.
Efforts to legislatively protect the Thompson Divide began a decade ago and, in 2019, became a component of the larger Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act (CORE Act). Although the CORE Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives several times, it has not yet been approved by the Senate — this despite strong support from a wide range of interested parties, including ranchers, environmentalists, hunters and anglers, campers, snowmobilers, hikers and mountain bikers.
Passage by the Senate has been one of the top priorities of Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop (WW), as well as the affiliated Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC). As Mike Pritchard, the TDC’s treasurer, stated to The Sopris Sun, “The CORE Act has been our big hope these past few years. While the 20-year withdrawal is appreciated, we need a lot of people to participate in the process to make [the CORE Act] happen.”
The fate of the Thompson Divide has long been a major focus of media coverage in the Valley, though perhaps never more eloquently than in a Sun opinion column in March 2022 by Tai Jacober. He noted that the Divide “is summer range to some of the oldest ranching operations in the Roaring Fork Valley; contains one of the densest concentrations of inventoried roadless areas in the region; and generates 300 jobs and $30 million each year in economic benefits.” He went on to point out its importance as a wildlife corridor for many species, “[that] links wildlands near Grand Junction to the Elk Mountains.”
Once the 90-day comment period ends in January, the administrative withdrawal directive will undergo environmental analysis and further public comment — a process that may take up to a year to complete. However, President Biden has already declared a two-year moratorium on any new mineral leasing on the Divide while the withdrawal decision is under consideration.
In a statement to The Sun, WW Executive Director Will Roush said, “We know our community is unified for the Thompson Divide, and the Dec. 14 public meeting is a critical opportunity for all of us to show up and make this long-standing support visible to the federal agencies!”
Among other comments shared with The Sun by WW: “Protecting the Thompson Divide will help ensure [that] … future generations can enjoy these incredible public lands,” Jason Sewell, owner of Sunfire Ranch and a TDC board member; and “I’m proud to join the chorus of Carbondale voices calling on our federal agencies to move quickly and make this administrative withdrawal a priority,” Ben Bohmfalk, Carbondale mayor.
Written comments on the administrative withdrawal can be sent to: State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, CO 80215; or emailed to: BLM_CO_Thompson_Divide@blm.gov