Regional stakeholders praised a negotiated compromise that was reached last week between the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), Gunnison Energy LLC (GELLC), Trout Unlimited, and elected officials in Gunnison County.
The agreement marks the end of a year-long negotiation process focused on the southern boundary of the Thompson Divide area in Gunnison County. Throughout the course of the negotiations, stakeholders worked together to adjust the proposed legislative boundary in a way that could meet Gunnison Energy's needs on producing leases in the area while protecting critical fisheries, wildlife habitat and watersheds in Gunnison County's Clear Fork Roadless Area.
After GELLC expressed concerns about the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act's legislative boundary, Senator Michael Bennet asked for stakeholders to work together toward a compromise on the boundary. The negotiated boundary is a result of that work.
"We support this commonsense compromise, which helps to balance our needs for energy production and conservation -- both of which are a priority for Gunnison County. We're glad to have Gunnison Energy's support for the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act," said Paula Swenson, chair of the Gunnison County Commissioners. "This shows that when all parties come to the table, in good faith, we can work together to achieve a balance that meets the needs of stakeholders on both sides of the table."
In a letter to U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Gunnison Energy's president Brad Robinson expressed his support for the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which aims to protect the Thompson Divide area from future oil and gas leasing.
In his letter, Robinson stated that "GELLC is concerned that merely having gas operations within the TDC area boundary will lead to permitting delays and increased environmental compliance costs."
Robinson concluded that "With the change in boundary and the assurances I have received concerning our continued normal operations in this area, I support passage of the Act."
"As ranchers and small business owners, we understood that we wouldn't get everything we originally wanted. That's just not how negotiations work," said Jason Sewell, a fifth generation rancher in the Crystal River Valley and TDC board member. "In the end, we were able to work with folks to find a solution that respects the majority of everybody's interests. It's the Western Slope way of doing things."
The Thompson Divide area covers 221,500 acres of Federal land in Pitkin County (88,100 acres), Gunnison County (51,700 acres), Garfield County (43,500 acres), Mesa County (30,500 acres) and Delta County (7,700 acres). There are currently 61 leases in the area covering approximately 105,000 acres. Half of the leases are in roadless areas and do not contain surface stipulations.
"The Thompson Divide area contains some of the best trout streams and hunting grounds left in Colorado. We applaud Gunnison Energy, Senator Bennet, and everyone involved for listening to sportsmens' concerns and working together in the spirit of compromise," said Shane Cross, Western Energy Counsel for Trout Unlimited.
Independent economic analysis conducted by Denver-based BBC Research found that hunting, fishing, grazing and recreation activities in the Thompson Divide support nearly 300 jobs and $30 million a year in economic value. In addition, the large expanse of undeveloped lands in the Divide offers a valuable scenic and pristine backdrop to a regional tourism industry that underlies the economy of the neighboring counties.
The area has been recognized by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) as high-value habitat for a variety of species (deer, elk, bear, moose and lynx), and overlaps with some of the richest game-management units in the state. For example, Game Management Units #42, #43 and #521 generate more than 20,000 big game hunting licenses every year.