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Biden-Harris Administration Finalizes Protections for Thompson Divide

Public lands in Colorado withdrawn from future mineral development to protect wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and outdoor recreation opportunities

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2024 — The Biden-Harris administration today took action to finalize protections for the Thompson Divide area in central Colorado, one of the state’s most cherished landscapes, known for its ranching heritage and grazing lands, important wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and clean water. Today’s announcement delivers on President Biden’s commitment to protect the Thompson Divide when he signed a proclamation establishing the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument. Colorado’s farmers, ranchers, hunters and anglers have worked to protect the area’s streams, aspen groves, and ecosystems for generations.

In response to broad interest in retaining the Thompson Divide’s contiguous landscape and protecting the area from potential impacts of mineral development, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland signed Public Land Order 7939, withdrawing approximately 221,898 acres of USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land from disposition under the public land laws and operation of the United States mining, mineral and geothermal leasing laws for a 20-year period, subject to valid existing rights.

Today’s action advances President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, which set the nation’s first-ever goal to conserve and restore at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The 10-year, locally led and nationally scaled initiative lifts up efforts to protect, conserve, connect and restore the lands, waters and wildlife upon which we all depend. In his first two years in office, President Biden invested more dollars in conservation than any other President in a two-year period, and he is on track to conserve more lands and waters than any President in history.

“This action from the Biden-Harris administration not only protects the Thompson Divide area’s rich ranching heritage, it supports the growing recreation economy that is the lifeblood of so many rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Around $30 million flows through this region every year thanks to a one-of-a-kind landscape that draws visitors for hiking, biking, fishing, hunting and so much more. This important step will help ensure those scenic, recreation and environmental values remain intact.”

“The Thompson Divide area is a treasured landscape, valued for its wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and abundant recreation, ecological and scenic values. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring that special places like these are protected for future generations,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Today's action has been the goal of a decades-long grassroots effort from a diverse stakeholder group, including hunters, anglers, ranchers, conservation groups, and local governments – and reflects this Administration’s ongoing commitment to honoring and lifting up locally led conservation efforts.”

Much of 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. 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. These existing and unaffected leases in the Thompson Divide area constitute less than 1 percent of the more than 3,000 active federal leases in the state of Colorado.

The public land order withdraws 197,745 acres of the White River and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison national forests, as well as 15,465 acres of BLM-managed public lands and 8,689 acres of reserved federal mineral interest under non-federal land. The withdrawal is authorized by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which authorizes Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands aggregating 5,000 acres or more for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.

Today’s decision reflects decades of grassroots support for the effort, including in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act. The withdrawal is informed by more than a year of public involvement on the proposal, as well as an environmental assessment. Following the Administration’s proposed withdrawal in October 2022, the Departments engaged extensively with a variety of stakeholders – including through five public meetings, close coordination with Tribes and multiple cooperating agencies, and a review of the approximately 31,000 comments received.

The withdrawal applies to all forms of entry, appropriation, and disposal under the public land laws; location and entry under the mining laws; and operation of the mineral leasing, mineral materials, and geothermal leasing laws for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights.

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