Halloween 2019 marked another great step toward permanent protection of Thompson Divide when the House of Representatives voted to pass the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which includes a permanent mineral withdrawal for Thompson Divide. This has been the primary goal of the Thompson Divide Coalition for more than a decade. The House vote was an occasion to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished together as a community.
The CORE Act passed the House with bipartisan support and Rep. Joe Neguse, who sponsored the bill, proved to be an inspiring champion. However, our local Congressman, Scott Tipton, voted against the bill, stating: “it appears that local sentiment has not been adequately taken into account when developing this bill.”
This statement is a slap in the face to the diverse Coalition that has worked so hard to build consensus on protecting Thompson Divide for over a decade. It is also incongruous with recent statements made by Rep. Tipton himself that there are no more issues that need to be resolved on Thompson to get his support.
Ten years ago, new oil and gas leasing and drilling presented an imminent threat to existing values in the Thompson Divide, so we began a legislative campaign to protect it in earnest. Rep John Salazar, the first of our representatives to champion the Divide, said this when he took up the mantle of support:
“I’ve heard from countless local ranchers concerned over the quality of water and their ability to sustain their operation … These areas are at the very top of the watershed and thousands of downstream water users and ranching operations depend on these precious water resources for their survival. This is the beginning of the next chapter in our shared effort and working together I am confident we will be successful.”
Rep. Salazar understood the importance of Thompson Divide to our way of life. He understood that this was a community issue, grown from grassroots, and that it was broadly supported by people of all walks of life and all political persuasions.
When Rep. Tipton was elected in November 2010, we immediately reached out to get our new congressman on board. We engaged him at every opportunity — presenting letters of support from every directly impacted local government and members of our diverse coalition. We made headlines rallying in the streets to show community consensus. None of this moved Mr. Tipton to support the effort, so we shifted our focus to other Congressional representatives who were willing to listen.
Sen. Michael Bennet took up the cause, introducing legislation in the Senate twice, which gained more support with each iteration. Changes were made to address stakeholder concerns. Boundaries were adjusted. Credits were offered to compensate leaseholders. By 2017, even an oil and gas company with leases in the Divide was on board with permanent protection for the area. We repeatedly asked Rep. Tipton for his support, but he refused.
In the current Congress, Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse came together to sponsor a statewide public lands bill in the CORE Act. Rep. Neguse saw that efforts to protect Thompson Divide were widely supported by the most impacted communities and that the bill had been well-vetted. He was excited to champion this legislation, and summed up his support by saying: “the bill will protect the ability to hunt, fish, hike, camp and ski. It’s about a Colorado way of life and protecting our public lands.”
It is unclear exactly why Rep. Tipton opposes the CORE Act. One of his chief complaints is that Rep. Neguse sponsored a bill affecting lands in his district without his consultation. That argument is childish and untrue — we have been asking Tipton for this for a decade and he has continually ignored us. The issue has unified local communities like no other. Rep. Tipton’s actions raise lots of questions, but one thing is clear: he’s not listening to us. But Joe Neguse is — he heard us loud and clear, picked up the cause, and now his widely supported bill has passed through the House.
Mr. Tipton’s opposition to the bill seems to be based in alternative facts at best and willful ignorance at worst. The tactics he’s employing to oppose the bill seem hypocritical. Rep. Tipton is letting ideology trump the will of the most impacted local communities that remain unified for protection of Thompson Divide. That’s no way to represent Coloradans and it ignores the will of so many of us in the 3rd Congressional District.
Hopefully, as the CORE Act moves to the Senate, Sen. Cory Gardner will be able to see clearly how much local support exists for protecting these public lands, and support our communities by helping to pass it into law.
Judy Fox Perry lives on 70-year old family-owned Water Gap Ranch, reliant on irrigation water from the Thompson Divide. She has been involved in efforts to protect the Thompson Divide since the beginning as a founding member and current Board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
Chuck Ogilby and his family owns Hell Roaring Ranch and Avalanche Ranch Cabins at the base of the Thompson Divide, and he is founding member, past Board President, and current Board member of the Thompson Divide Coalition. He is a former Vail Town Councilman, and is on the Board of the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area Citizen Task Force.