Thompson Divide in Colorado
The Forest Service recently released a plan that could protect much of Colorado’s Thompson Divide from new oil and gas leasing. For years, this spectacular area has been threatened by oil and gas development.
Unfortunately, this Forest Service plan isn’t enough to ensure these spectacular roadless lands are safe for future generations. We need the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to also stop oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide.
The Thompson Divide encompasses large tracts of roadless land on the White River National Forest west of Aspen. It is a scenic destination for hunters, hikers and backcountry skiers and the backbone of the local ranching economy. As the most frequented national forest for outdoor recreation in the country, nearby communities benefit immensely from the economic opportunities that recreation provides. The Thompson Divide at its core is quintessential Colorado backcountry—where people and wildlife thrive.
While public lands in the Thompson Divide generate millions of dollars for local economies and support hundreds of long-term outfitting, guiding, ranching and recreation-related jobs, existing sustainable uses of the land are at-risk. Oil and gas companies are pushing hard to bring industrial development to this special place.
The Forest Service plan closes much of the Thompson Divide to new oil and gas leasing, and places a “no surface occupancy” stipulation on any new leases issued in inventoried roadless areas. This is a common-sense requirement reinforcing the ban on road construction in roadless areas, and ensures that roadless lands on the Forest will be protected from roads, drilling rigs and waste pits.
The Forest Service's plan does not prevent oil and gas companies from drilling on existing leases in the area—many of which were issued by the BLM under the Bush Administration without mandatory environmental analysis. These leases were issued in disregard of the Forest Service’s roadless rule and without complying with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
We hope to see the BLM plan respond to the desire of the local community and widespread national support to protect this land for future generations.
The recent plan from the Forest Service affirms what the local community has known for a long time: oil and gas leasing is not appropriate on the public lands of the Thompson Divide. The Wilderness Society agrees. We know that Thompson Divide is Too Wild to Drill. The value of the Thompson Divide and the White River National Forest is not found in short-term oil and gas potential, but through the impact this outstanding landscape has on all who visit.
The BLM is now in the process of making its own decisions for the Thompson Divide. The BLM admits it issued these 65 leases in violation of environmental laws in the 1990s and early 2000s. The BLM should follow the Forest Service’s lead and cancel the illegally issued leases to ensure that Thompson Divide and other roadless lands in the forest are protected.