Thompson Divide

The Thompson Divide area, roughly the wild lands between Carbondale and Paonia, would be protected from future oil and gas leasing by a bill making its way through Congress.

A poll conducted for conservation groups released Friday found that two-thirds of Western Colorado voters support the CORE Act, which would protect the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development.

The legislation could be up for a vote in the House of Representatives this week, according to a representative from Wilderness Workshop, which was among the groups that sponsored the poll from New Bridge Strategy. The poll included 400 likely 2020 voters from the 3rd Congressional District and Chaffee and Fremont counties.

The CORE Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of the 2nd Congressional District, would make 200,000 acres of the Thompson Divide off limits to future oil and gas leasing. The area, which roughly encompasses the wild lands between Carbondale and Paonia, was the site of an environmental battle concluded in the waning days of the Obama administration, when the government announced the cancellation of existing leases. The CORE act would finish the job by preventing any future administration from selling new drilling leases in the area.

In addition, the CORE Act creates new wilderness areas in the San Juan Mountains and along the Continental Divide. It would also protect Camp Hale between Leadville and Minturn, which was where 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained during World War II, with a National Historic Landscape designation.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the Thompson Divide. He has not taken a position on the CORE Act.

The CORE Act polled higher, at 66 percent, than the broader concept of creating more wilderness designations in Colorado, which has the support of 63 percent of survey respondents.

The poll showed that western Coloradans overwhelmingly feel that public lands are a good thing, with 84 percent responding that they help the economy.

Protection of the Thompson Divide enjoys wide support locally. The poll’s briefing memo noted that support for the CORE Act increases in the counties that would be affected by its new protections.

“The recent poll affirms what the citizens of Pitkin County and our neighboring Continental Divide watersheds have advocated for over 10 years,” Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman said in a press release about the poll results. 

“In no uncertain terms, we have repeatedly asked our representatives in Congress to protect the Thompson Divide. The Pitkin County commissioners are unanimous in our support for the Thompson Divide as an essential element of the CORE Act,” he continued. “Also importantly, before the last of the WWII 10th Mountain Division ski troopers pass on, Coloradans would like to honor the brave veterans and fathers of our modern ski and outdoor recreation industry by seeing Camp Hale designated as a National Historic Landscape.”