Tom Stevens is a Colorado native hailing from Weld County. His mother is also a Colorado native.
His father is from Wyoming. He spent his first 40 years in Greeley, the county seat of Weld County.
He began ranching when he was 50 years old. He moved to Boulder County after buying a dilapidated ranch to fix up. He raised cattle on his Ward ranch which was located up in the mountains.
Gold was discovered in the 1860s in Boulder County. "They started some little towns called Gold Hill and Sunshine. And Ward sprung up. There were a few ranches that supplied cattle, turnips and potatoes, so they would have fresh [food]. There was no way to preserve food back then," Stevens said.
A narrow gauge railroad ran through the ranch. In earlier times, the lake on the ranch provided ice which was cut and shipped to Boulder.
Ward is known for having 90 mile per hour winds for weeks at a time. It's known as the windiest place in the U.S. "I was tired of it. I had been living in it for 22 years. I couldn't get out and do anything in the winter," he said.
"So, I did some research and discovered Crawford is one of the least windy places in the United States. Average wind speed they show in Crawford is five miles per hour. Where I came from it is 20 miles per hour. Twenty miles per hour doesn't sound like that much, but when you consider a good time it doesn't blow, when it blows it's open for business. It pulls trees out of the ground and flattens road signs."
Stevens bought a ranch in Crawford that was in poor shape. He has cleared away a lot of junk on the property and is clearing away a bunch of noxious weeds. There's still some work to be done, but it looks like a well-run ranch should look.
Wind was the reason why Stevens left Ward. Oil and gas development is the reason he'll never return to Weld County.
"All I know is what I see," Stevens said.
In addition to being a rancher, Stevens had his own real estate company. He sold ranches and mountain property in Weld, Boulder and Larimer counties. "I really started seeing the real impacts of [oil and gas development] once I got into the real estate business."
While he worked with farmers and ranchers trying to sell their property, they told him what they were experiencing with the oil and gas industry. With advances in technology, rather than a well every 40 acres, an oil and gas company could put wells every 20 acres. According to The Greeley Tribune, Weld County has more than 17,000 active oil and gas wells, which is the largest number of active wells in any county in the United States.
"As the technology increased and they started changing the regulations, rather than a well every 40 acres, they could put them every 20 acres. Then I think they got to put them on every 10 acres. Then they started impacting people. They started fracking. Through the fracking process they were getting gas into the groundwater. So, water wells were being contaminated and ruined. You couldn't use them. You couldn't water the livestock out of them. Oil and gas was seeping into people's basements and it was coming through their water wells and through their household faucets," Stevens said. "People were able to open up their faucet and light it. It would burn. There was that much gas in there."
Some strongly believe fracking cannot harm groundwater.
"I don't know, but that's what these people were experiencing. And of course they were blaming fracking. I don't know if that was actually the case or not, But I know they didn't have any problems to speak of before fracking and now there are problems," Stevens said.
It scares him that the BLM is using an outdated Resource Management Plan to allow parcels in the North Fork Valley to be put up for oil and gas leasing. If the oil and gas leases go through in February, he believes whoever buys the leases will be grandfathered in and won't have to comply with future regulations which could make it more expensive and difficult to develop oil and gas. "If there is going to be oil and gas development here, there have to be enough regulations to prevent things like what happened in Weld County," Stevens said.
"It's really a short-term fix. Oil and gas is not the energy source of the future. If we develop oil and gas today, and destroy the environment and ruin our views, these things — especially in deserts and fragile environments — they don't heal very quickly," he said. "So why destroy the views and the environment for a hundred years when we should be pouring that money into figuring out what we can do with a renewable resource. There's got to be some place that doesn't get disturbed. You shouldn't have to drive to a national park to see unspoiled land."
Some have accused Stevens of being one of those guys trying to save his own backyard.
"Well that's all I can do," he said. "If everyone just does a little bit then we can make an impact. I can't save the entire country. All I can do is tell people what I've seen in Weld County and how I'd hate to see that actually happen here in the North Fork Valley where it is relatively unspoiled."
While in Weld County, he saw the real estate values drop dramatically, especially for those ranch owners who didn't own the mineral rights for their property. People didn't want to purchase a ranch without mineral rights because they wouldn't know to what extent their acreage for ranching would be reduced by future oil and gas wells.
"No one wants to go out there and live and have a gas well 150 feet from their house. It's disruptive," Stevens said. "It's not why people live in the country. There's more and more people wanting to live in the country trying to escape the chaos and noise and pollution of everything that's in the city . . . It makes it a lot harder to sell a property with oil and gas development in the area. It affects the beauty of the area too. You can't hardly go any where in Weld County along the county roads without seeing many, many gas wells. The landscape has changed from an agricultural landscape into an industrial landscape. For the most part that's not why people want to live in Colorado."
If there wasn't oil and gas development in an area in Weld County, Stevens knew there sure could be. He's seen 30 to 40 pages of exceptions to a property's title commitment for oil and gas leases. One property had 700 pages of oil and gas exceptions.
"It's amazing how much oil and gas leasing there has been over the years, and how much there could be in the future if they keep letting them drill more and more. There's so much affected by it. There isn't a person in Weld County that can't tell you a story about oil and gas and what the affects are," he said.
Stevens has written letters and filed a protest over the North Fork Valley parcels targeted for the February 2013 lease sale. "I've never been actively involved like an environmentalist, but I'm a rancher. I think ranchers are naturally inclined to be environmentalists because if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.
"I don't get involved in causes, but when I saw what was happening and what could happen I have to get involved to some extent and do what I can to make sure that anything that is done, is done wisely," Stevens said.
About the leasing of parcels in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas development, Stevens believes, "It's not about energy independence. It's about being independently wealthy."