Will pause new mineral leasing while science and public input is gathered
Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2022
WASHINGTON — Today the Biden-Harris administration announced steps to protect the Thompson Divide area in central Colorado, one of the state’s most cherished landscapes.
In response to broad concerns about protecting the Thompson Divide’s important wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, grazing lands and clean air and water, the Administration is initiating consideration of a 20-year withdrawal of the Thompson Divide area from operation of the public land laws, mining laws, and mineral and geothermal leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights.
The Thompson Divide area has not been available to oil and gas leasing for several years, and there is no current or planned oil exploration or production in the area. Pre-existing natural gas leases in the area would be unaffected by this proposed mineral withdrawal. These pre-existing and unaffected natural gas-related leases in the Thompson Divide area constitute less than 1% of the more than 3,000 active federal leases in the state of Colorado.
“A coalition of hunters, ranchers, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts and community leaders have worked for decades to ensure the Thompson Divide area is protected,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today the Biden-Harris administration is taking an important and sensible step to ensure that we have the science and public input necessary to make informed decisions about sustainable management of public lands in the Thompson Divide area.”
“The Thompson Divide area is well known for its picturesque ranches, vibrant outdoor recreation economy, and stunning landscapes,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The USDA will conduct a thorough and public environmental analysis on this proposal, considering a host of diverse opinions as well as the value of the landscape for the many benefits it provides.”
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service submitted a joint withdrawal petition and application to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Secretary Haaland’s approval of the petition and publication of a notice in the Federal Register will initiate a two-year segregation that will prohibit new mining claims and the issuance of new federal mineral leases on approximately 224,794 acres in the Thompson Divide area. During this time, the Forest Service and the BLM will seek public comment and conduct a science-based environmental analysis.
The two-year segregation of lands initiated by this proposal prohibits the location of new mining claims or the issuance of new mineral leasing within portions of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG), White River National Forest, and BLM public lands. The action does not affect water rights, activities on private lands, or valid existing rights, including the previously authorized Wolf Creek Gas Storage Area, an underground natural gas storage field critical to providing energy to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Publication of the Federal Register notice will also initiate a 90-day public comment period on the proposed withdrawal. Additionally, the agencies will begin preparing an environmental analysis to inform whether the lands should be withdrawn for a period of up to 20 years. This process will include Tribal consultation and participation by the public, environmental groups, industry, state and local government, as well as other stakeholders. By law, the Secretary of the Interior can withdraw these lands for a maximum of 20 years. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.
Responsible development of domestic mineral supplies is important to transitioning to a clean energy economy. The study and two-year segregation from the location of new mining claims and the issuance of new mineral leases will give USDA and the Interior Department the opportunity to fully support science-based decision-making in the Thompson Divide area.