Forest Service acts to protect Thompson Divide

Thompson Divide: high quality habitat worth protecting

By Aaron Kindle

Earlier this week, the White River National Forest (WRNF) in western Colorado released its Record of Decision for managing oil and gas leasing on the forest. The decision is being hailed by sportsmen as a balanced approach to resource protection and energy development. Importantly, the decision strikes this balance by withdrawing the Thompson Divide and other roadless areas of the WRNF from energy leasing for the next 20 years while keeping other areas of the forest with high oil and gas potential open to leasing. 

TU has been working to protect the Thompson Divide for the past several years. The area offers some of the most high quality habitat for cutthroat trout, big game and other important wildlife species in the entire state. In contrast to its protected wilderness neighbors, the Thompson Divide is lower in elevation and more ecologically rich, which makes it a haven for elk, deer, dozens of bird species and the endangered lynx, all while its streams and lakes support critical fish populations including conservation populations of cutthroat trout.

In 2010 we began talks with White River forest officials regarding the Oil and Gas leasing Environmental Impact Statement or EIS. We advocated for withdrawal of the Thompson Divide and other key roadless lands across the forest and asked that the Forest Service concentrate any new development near areas that are currently leased or developed.

Fortunately, the Forest Service was responsive to our concerns and the dozens of sportsmen, ranchers, communities and conservation organizations that echoed our sentiments. One of the key reasons we asked for this particular decision was to gain the necessary time to adequately focus on securing a buyback for the currently held leases in the area without worrying about the threat of additional leasing. We now have a 20-year window to pass withdrawal legislation introduced by Senator Michael Bennet and to work with current leaseholders towards a market-based solution.

This victory further augments our protection work in the area and helps gain more momentum for the ultimate protection of this important piece of the backcountry. This past summer, we were also successful in gaining an Outstanding Waters designation through Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission for over 130 miles of backcountry streams and lakes in the Thompson Divide that are home to several cutthroat populations. The designation means that the current pristine water quality in these waters cannot be degraded, and that any entity that wishes to perform activities related to water will have to prove and provide a plan ensuring that the water quality will not be harmed.

TU’s comprehensive and pragmatic approach to the Thompson Divide issue has made great strides toward the ultimate goal of permanent protection. However, this campaign is far from over. In the coming months and years we will remain steadfast in our resolve to protect this invaluable resource, to respect existing rights and to ultimately secure a responsible, respectful and protective resolution for the Thompson Divide.

Please thank the Forest Service for their actions at this link and visit for more information and updates.

Aaron Kindle is the Colorado Field Coordinator for TU’s Sportsmen's Conservation Project.




said on Monday, December 15th, 2014

Great job, Aaron Kindle and TU. One of these days, we fishermen will stop taking these places for granted.


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