Guest Commentary: We don't need to drill it all

Denver Post Bill Fales and Auden Schendler

What a thing it was. Seven green John Deere tractors, buckets skyward, hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm ordinance, rolling down Main Street in Carbondale on a beautiful Saturday earlier this month. The tractors, in the height of fall roundup, were on the way to ... a street protest.

Really.

These tractor owners are not Occupy Wall Street types. They wear crushed and filthy felt cowboy hats. They have no iPhones. They don't use Soft Soap. Lotion is as foreign an idea as complaining. And yet here they were, in these fractious times, going to meet their friends -- 300 of them, in fact: the hippies and the hunters, the drummers and the Republicans, the women in long flowing dresses, the businessmen and the children, fellow cattlemen and grandparents.

They gathered under the name the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), organized more than three years ago to protect 221,000 acres of Forest Service land just outside of Carbondale from gas drilling. Thompson Divide is a place for all people: It's the town's viewshed; it hosts a popular climbing area; offers five months of grazing for cattle owned by local ranchers who provide an important and growing source of healthy local food; it includes hiking trails around a pristine creek; an incredible nonprofit Nordic ski area; one of the best game management units for hunting elk and deer in the nation; and a vast system of snowmobile trails.

Because these uses touch everyone, it's hard to find anyone in the Crystal or Roaring Fork Valleys who doesn't support the coalition. The signs speak to that: Tractors for Thompson Divide. Ranchers for Thompson Divide. Save It For the Kids. Cows Need Grass, Not Gas. Clean Air, Clean Water = Priceless.

And the message from this group was, in short, that we don't need to drill it all. While gas is useful and necessary, and the business provides jobs and food for families, we don't have to drill every square inch. Today, Western Colorado is seeing some of the highest wellhead density in the West. And we as a state are going to town on our bountiful reserves, no question.

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Bill Fales is a rancher and owner of Cold Mountain Ranch. Auden Schendler is a vice president at Aspen Skiing Company.