Protecting the Thompson Divide, Colorado’s crown jewel

The Thompson Divide, a wildlife haven, may receive protections from oil and gas drilling.

Elk herds flourish in Colorado's Thompson Divide.

The Thompson Divide in Western Colorado is a landscape rich with expansive aspen groves and old growth spruce-fir forests. Black bears, mule-deer and elk herds are prodigious because with the surrounding areas, the Thompson Divide constitutes one of the largest expanses of unfragmented, roadless forests in the state.

In addition to its ecological value, the Thompson Divide is an economic and recreational boon for the region. Anglers come to fish trout and outdoor enthusiasts come to bike, hike and cross country ski. Each year, 20,000 regional big game licenses are awarded to hunters. The anglers, hunters and outdoor recreationists patronize bait shops, grocery stores and restaurants in nearby towns, such as Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The region supports over 30 ranching operations, some of which have been in the region for generations.

However, oil and gas companies have had their eye on the Thompson Divide as a site for natural gas extraction for decades. In response, local communities that rely on the Thompson Divide for their livelihoods have been advocating to protect the region. And for good reason – developing land for oil and gas drilling can devastate the environment. It often requires tearing down forests to build roads, importing heavy machinery, and initiating a steady stream of trucks to carry in millions of gallons of water and fracking fluid.

That’s why on October 12, Coloradans were given a reason to celebrate. President Joe Biden’s administration initiated a process to protect the Thompson Divide area for 20 years. The process, called an administrative mineral withdrawal, could conserve nearly 225,000 acres in Western Colorado by prohibiting new mining, oil and gas drilling projects. 

The process to protect this area will pause any new oil & gas leases for the next two years. The USDA will carry out an environmental impact analysis to determine if the environmental benefits of prohibiting oil & gas extraction outweigh any potential cons. The process also initiated a 90 day public comment period.

This region, once called a “crown jewel” by Senator Hickenlooper, is too important for our wildlife and local communities to riddle with roads, machinery and water pollution. 

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Authors

Sammy Herdman

Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Sammy runs the Save the Boreal Forest campaign for Environment America, calling on American corporations to stop degrading forests that are critical for the climate, biodiversity and people. Sammy grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but now lives in Denver. She enjoys snowboarding, camping and reading.

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

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Tim Rains / NPS | Public Domain

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