Ranchers on Colorado’s Western Slope are concerned about the future of their summer grazing land.
The Bureau of Land Management announced this week it will extend the term for more than 20 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area that were set to expire this year. So far, none of the oil and gas companies has announced plans to drill, but people such as Bill Fales, owner of Cold Mountain Ranch, are concerned that extending the leases could allow them to begin the process.
“There is no other game in town,” he said. “There is no other summer pasture available to us. Those leases were issued 10 years ago and we were never notified.”
Fales and his family have been farming on their 700 acres in the Thompson Divide since the 1920s. They own cattle, and for the last 30 years have been using the nearby federal land for summer grazing. Fales said he needs the land so his acreage has time to replenish with grass for the winter months.
Ellynne Bannon, western energy lands program manager for the Checks and Balances Project, said the Bureau of Land Management has a long track record in Colorado of choosing the priorities of oil and gas companies over those of farmers and the recreation industry.
“This latest action in Thompson Divide is unfortunately another example of that office’s push to really, to be favoring the oil and gas industries,” she said.
Earlier this year, the BLM proposed drilling next to Mesa Verde National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Bannon said the area is a huge resource and people are starting to pay attention.
“There’s all these spectacular, beautiful places,” she said. “They’re not just beautiful, they’re actually huge economic drivers. So, you’re seeing a lot of folks really stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute.’ ”
According to the Thompson Divide Coalition, the area generates 300 jobs and $30 million in revenue a year.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for an end to extending the leases for oil and gas companies, saying, “If you want to drill on public lands, you use it or lose it.”