Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has offered his support for a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Michael Bennet that would govern the future management for a majority of the Thompson Divide.
The divide is a 221,500-acre parcel of public land located predominantly in Pitkin, Gunnison and Garfield counties. Bennet introduced the bill in March.
In a letter to Bennet, Hickenlooper wrote, “The benefits of protecting un-leased land in the Thompson Divide and ultimately retiring leases once they come back into federal ownership will be realized without threatening existing mineral rights. Importantly, this legislation is affecting land within the Thompson Divide area only where there is county support,” according to a press release issued by Bennet’s office.
Bennet released a draft of the bill, called the Thompson Divide Withdrawal in Protection Act, last August. It received support during a four-month public comment period, which drew nearly 700 comments from local residents, 99 percent of which were supportive of the measure, with 1 percent stating that oil and gas development and leasing should continue in the Thompson Divide.
Bennet’s office has received support from all three counties included in the area, as well as adjacent municipalities.
“The bill we introduced to manage the Thompson Divide is a reflection of Coloradans coming together for the benefit of their communities,” Bennet said in the press release.
The 99 percent that were supportive of the draft bill listed watershed protection, motorized and non-motorized recreation, local agriculture and food-sourcing, and traffic from potential development as reasons.
A study released in March reported that development of the land would threaten $30 million in annual economic activity and nearly 300 jobs that are supported by existing uses of the land, according to Bennet’s office.
Praising the bill as a “fair approach to achieving enduring protections for a Colorado crown jewel,” Gov. Hickenlooper noted that Bennet’s bill would help secure permanent protection for the Thompson Divide while respecting private property rights.
The Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit organization opposed to drilling in the area, lauded Hickenlooper’s support.
“We’re thrilled by Gov. Hickenlooper’s decision to back a middle-ground solution that protects the Thompson Divide and the livelihoods it supports,” said Zane Kessler, executive director of the coalition. “He lends a critical and balanced voice to our broad coalition of supporters who believe the Thompson Divide is a special place that should be preserved and protected for the enjoyment of generations to come.”
The bill, if passed, would ban drilling in currently un-leased parts of the Thompson Divide, and create a mechanism for existing mineral leaseholders to sell or retire their leases on a voluntary basis.