ASPEN, COLORADO – The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are seeking public input on a proposal to withdraw the Thompson Divide from being available for mineral and gas leases. This move could significantly impact over 224,000 acres of land across Pitkin, Garfield, and Gunnison counties.
The Thompson Divide, known for its stunning landscapes and diverse ecosystems, has been at the center of a conservation debate. The Biden administration, responding to concerns over the Divide’s critical wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, grazing lands, and clean air and water, initiated steps last year to conserve this cherished area. The proposed withdrawal, under consideration for up to 20 years, aims to protect these lands from mining, mineral, and geothermal leasing activities, while respecting valid existing rights.
Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum emphasized the significance of public participation in this process. “This requested withdrawal of the Thompson Divide area is in response to a strong interest from a diverse stakeholder group, including hunters, ranchers, conservation groups, and local governments,” he stated.
The USFS and BLM will host a virtual public meeting on December 18 from 6-7 p.m. to discuss the proposal and the draft environmental assessment, including a Q&A session. Public comments on the draft assessment can be submitted until January 8, 2024. Registration for the meeting is available at bit.ly/4878ZFV, and accessibility inquiries can be directed to Olivia Blake at 970-200-6195.
The proposed action follows years of advocacy by a coalition of stakeholders, including hunters, ranchers, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, and community leaders. The Thompson Divide has not been available for oil and gas leasing for several years, and there is no current or planned oil exploration in the area. The withdrawal would not affect pre-existing natural gas leases, which constitute less than 1% of Colorado’s federal leases.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted the significance of the Thompson Divide’s picturesque ranches, outdoor recreation economy, and landscapes. He assured a thorough environmental analysis, considering diverse opinions and the landscape’s benefits.
How to Get Involved and Learn More
- Attend the Virtual Public Meeting: Join the USFS and BLM on December 18 to learn more about the withdrawal proposal and ask questions.
- Submit Your Comments: Share your thoughts and concerns about the proposal by visiting fs.usda.gov/project/?project=63679. The public comment period is open until January 8, 2024.
- Stay Informed: Regularly check the USFS and BLM websites for updates on the Thompson Divide and related environmental assessments.
- Spread the Word: Engage your community by sharing information about the Thompson Divide proposal and encouraging others to participate.
The decision to withdraw the Thompson Divide from mineral and gas leases will shape the future of this central Colorado landscape. Public participation is crucial in determining the direction of this proposal, ensuring a balance between conservation efforts and resource development.