thompson divide

The Thompson Divide: Standing at the Summit

Photo: Trout Unlimited www.tu.org

Photo: Trout Unlimited www.tu.org

Excerpt from Aspen Times, read the full article here.

By Scott Willoughby

In a landlocked rise of rock and ice, Thompson Divide flows like a vein of Colorado gold. This vast sweep of lustrous aspen groves and lush conifer forests surrounded by the iconic sentinel of Mount Sopris, the towering Elk Mountains, rugged Ragged Wilderness and verdant Grand Mesa is flanked by open, grassy meadows and cool, clean trout streams offering a treasure of precious, wild habitat. The 221,000-acre backcountry expanse serves as one of the most pristine natural environments in the West, and among the most deserving of preservation.

Described as a "Colorado Crown Jewel" by Gov. John Hickenlooper himself, the rolling, mid-elevation backcountry is home to a rare combination of natural and recreational resources in the heart one the nation's most popular outdoor playgrounds. Because it supports recreation, ranching and other local industries, the Thompson Divide produces an estimated 300 jobs and pumps more than $30 million into the local economy, much of it during the fall harvest and hunting seasons when the hillsides bustle with life.

Critical keystone habitat supports some of the state's largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and dozens of other species benefiting from one of the densest concentrations of roadless areas in the West. Native cutthroat trout line the vital cold water streams and ponds that continue to serve as a water source for the husky bruins once hunted by conservation champion President Theodore Roosevelt more than 100 years ago.

A new chapter was added to this storied landscape recently when a coalition of local government officials, businesses, ranchers, sportsmen and citizen groups successfully orchestrated the cancellation of 25 oil and gas drilling leases improperly issued in the early 2000s within Thompson Divide's boundaries and settled a lawsuit challenging the cancellation last summer. The leases covered more than 21,000 acres (about 33 square miles), featuring prime big game habitat and native cutthroat trout streams in watersheds providing source water to the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers, as well as local communities.

But the battle is far from won. Keep reading.

Can’t access the full article, try on Trout Unlimited.

Thompson Divide protections preserved in settlement

The BLM announced some good news for Colorado’s native cutthroat trout and big game populations on June 22 after reaching a settlement in the lawsuit filed by oil and gas company SG Interests over the cancellation of 18 leases to drill in the Thompson Divide area of the White River National Forest near Carbondale, Colorado. The leases covered more than 21,000 acres (about 33 square miles) featuring prime big game habitat and native cutthroat trout streams in watersheds providing source water to the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers, as well as local communities.

Thompson Creek in the Thompson Divide.  Photo: Josh Duplechian

Thompson Creek in the Thompson Divide.  Photo: Josh Duplechian

Leases to drill in the Thompson Divide were improperly issued by BLM in 2003. A coalition of county and local governments, ranchers, local businesses, sportsmen and citizen groups – including Trout Unlimited – mobilized and worked for years to protect the Thompson Divide. BLM ultimately recognized that the leases had been issued in violation of the law and cancelled them in 2016. 

In early 2017, SG Interests filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to challenge BLM’s decision. Under the settlement, SG agrees to dismiss its case in exchange for a payment of $1.5 million from the federal government. The settlement compensates SG for investments made toward developing the leases but leaves the 2016 lease cancellations in effect.

“SG’s leases were issued in violation of the law, and these lands never should have been leased in the first place,” said Michael Freeman, a staff attorney at Earthjustice representing Wilderness Workshop and Colorado Trout Unlimited.  “BLM properly cancelled the leases in 2016. We’re glad to see that SG is dropping its challenge to those cancellations.”

The Thompson Divide area stretches across Pitkin, Garfield and Gunnison Counties and encompasses no fewer than nine National Forest roadless areas. The area includes habitat for deer, elk and a variety of sensitive wildlife species, including cold water streams vital to native cutthroat trout. Because it supports recreation, ranching and other local industries, the Thompson Divide produces an estimated 300 jobs and pumps more than $30 million into the local economy.

“From its prime big game habitat to unique native cutthroat trout fisheries, the Thompson Divide is a Colorado treasure for hunters and anglers,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “For years, sportsmen and women have fought to protect these lands — so we’re pleased that BLM and SG have reached an agreement that will keep them intact.”

While the settlement is an important step toward protecting the region, it does not end the threat posed by oil and gas development. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced legislation last year (S.481 - Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2017) to permanently protect the Thompson Divide. With the specter of SG's 2003 leases and lawsuit no longer hanging over the area, Colorado TU hopes that his bill can gain momentum so that this treasured landscape can receive the lasting protection it deserves.

 2013 JUL 31: The Thompson Divide west of Carbondale, CO.