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Feds Cancel Thompson Divide Oil and Gas Leases

Feds opt for outdoor recreation, ranching and agriculture over oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide. (USDA)
Feds opt for outdoor recreation, ranching and agriculture over oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide. (USDA)
November 18, 2016

DENVER – U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze joined Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper yesterday in Denver to announce the final resolution of disputed oil and gas leases, cancelling leases in the Thompson Divide area of the White River National Forest.

The move was praised by a coalition of ranchers, sportsmen and local governments. Stacey Bernot, former mayor of Carbondale, said the action puts to rest a decade-long struggle to prevent over-production on public lands.

"The Thompson Divide Coalition and this issue is a wonderful example of perseverance, strange bedfellows coming together to galvanize around a topic that resonates, and is backed by sound decision-making," she said.

Agencies analyzed 65 oil and gas leases and, after years of public input, decided to cancel undeveloped sites in the Thompson Divide but keep the area open for agriculture and outdoor recreation. Industry groups called the move an overreach of authority and promised to work with the incoming Trump Administration and GOP-controlled Congress to reverse it.

According to the BLM, the vast majority of over 50,000 public comments it received supported canceling the leases.

Bill Fales, president of the North Thompson Cattlemen's Association, said the BLM and U.S. Forest Service's independent analyses came to the same conclusion.

"Both agencies in analyzing the issue thought this area had too many other values, besides the mineral underneath the ground, that needed to be protected," he said. "So hopefully, politics will stay out of it."

The White River National Forest draws more visitors every year than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks combined. According to BBC Research and Consulting, hunting, ranching and recreation in the Thompson Divide supports 300 jobs and generates $30 million a year in economic activity.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO