Legislation would protect 400,000 acres, establish wilderness areas
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a multi-part bill that seeks to protect more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, led by Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, was considered by the subcommittee on Wednesday. senatorial public land energy and natural resources.
The legislation would establish new wilderness areas, protect existing recreation options, and expand methane capture and rental programs in Colorado.
The legislation, known as the CORE Act, was first introduced in 2019 by Bennet and Representative Joe Neguse, D-Colo. The bill was passed twice in the House in the last session of Congress, but stagnated in the Senate. The law was passed a third time in the House in February. The bill was also approved by President Joe Biden this year.
The CORE Act is made up of previously introduced and refined bills, including the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Division Protection and Removal Act; and the Law on the Establishment of the Boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Much of the legislation contained in the package has been developed over the past decade. Bennet began working with local landowners, athletes, and federal agencies to develop the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Law in 2011.
In his opening statement, Bennet highlighted Coloradans’ contribution to the drafting of the CORE Act. When developing the legislation, Bennet sought input from hunters, ranchers, anglers, environmentalists and small business owners.
“The most important thing to know about the CORE Act is that it was not written in Washington, DC,” Bennet told Senators. “It was written by Coloradans – on the field, in boardrooms, on kitchen tables, and at the start of trails across our state… over the past decade.”
Hickenlooper, a member of the Natural Resources Committee and co-author of the bill, said he felt “good” to join Bennet in the legislation.
“The way Michael and the teams of people he’s helped come together – the way they built CORE law – is a model for how we should do public land legislation going forward.” , Hickenlooper said in an interview with The Herald of Durango.
What the bill means for Colorado
The package will address increasing the use of outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, tackle climate change, and protect public lands and the Colorado wilderness.
“These places can be loved to death, and COVID shows it,” Hickenlooper said. “COVID has pushed all of these people to go out and enjoy nature. We have to make sure that we have enough nature to supply them. We cannot recreate the wilderness.
The CORE Act would also support and maintain outdoor recreation jobs in Colorado. The Bureau of Economic Analysis found that outdoor recreation accounted for more than $ 12.2 billion in economic impact in Colorado in 2019, or about 3% of the state’s total economy.
The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act would establish permanent protection in approximately 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation and conservation areas in the White River National Forest.
The bill designates 28,000 acres surrounding Camp Hale as a National Historic Landscape to honor the US Army training center built in 1942. Later known as the 10th Mountain Division, Camp Hale is where the staff were trained in rock climbing and skiing during WWII.
“Protecting Camp Hale would not only honor this incredible story, but also the veterans who continue to find peace and solace in our outdoor spaces,” Bennet told the committee.
The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act would establish permanent protections for approximately 60,000 acres of land in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. The law would also protect 6,590 acres from the withdrawal of minerals outside of Norwood in Naturita Canyon, prohibiting future mining development in the area.
The Thompson Division Protection and Removal Act would protect the area by permanently banning 200,000 acres from any future oil and gas development. Existing property rights will be preserved under the bill. The bill also creates a pilot program to lease excess methane from coal mines in the North Fork Valley.
“When I was governor, we worked a lot on methane. We were the first state to adopt tough methane regulations, ”Hickenlooper told Herald. “I think these are all facets of what really needs to be an integrated approach to dealing with climate change. And I think these efforts on public lands and the outdoor recreation industry are also a key point in tackling fugitive (methane) emissions.
The Law on the Establishment of the Boundaries of the National Recreation Area of Curecanti would establish a limit recognized by Congress of the National Recreation Area of Curecanti. Management of public lands would be improved through a series of changes in administrative jurisdiction and the Bureau of Reclamation would be given jurisdiction over the three dams in the region. The bill would also ensure that public access to fishing in the basin is maintained.
Local and federal reactions
The CORE Act has received 39 letters of support since its inception, including from Governor Jared Polis; several county commissions, including San Juan County; non-profit environmental associations; and the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
As the House Representative for the 2nd District of Colorado, Polis advocated for passage of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act with Bennet.
“This legislation would be great for Colorado and has been carefully crafted to protect existing uses, respect valid and existing rights to water and mineral development, and balance different demands for outdoor recreation,” Polis wrote in a letter of support. “It recognizes the critical voice of local communities and counties in shaping final decisions on which areas are appropriate for what type of use, including areas appropriate for commercial wood and energy protection.”
Conservation Colorado public lands advocate Beau Kiklis said Bennet and Hickenlooper “made the Coloradians proud” by getting the legislation heard in the Senate.
“Passing the CORE Act would be a significant victory for the countless local voices who worked hard to design it and it would align with the 30×30 scientific vision to conserve 30% of our land and water by 2030,” Kiklis wrote in an email. declaration to the Herald.
House Representative Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Called CORE a “land grab”.
“The CORE Act is partisan land grabbing promoted by big city Democrats who are unaffected by the land use bureaucracy they are driving down the gorge of rural Colorado,” she said in A press release. “Although approximately 65% of the land affected by this bill is in my district, I was never consulted on this bill, and the common sense changes proposed by Senator Gardner at the last Congress n have not been integrated either. While locking down land might sound good for the swamp, it doesn’t work for the people who actually live there. “
Former Senator Cory Gardner refused to approve the CORE Act in the last session of Congress. But he pushed for the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which he reintroduced in March 2020. The bill was passed by Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump.
The Great American Outdoors Act funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $ 900 million per year in perpetuity and provides $ 9.5 billion over five years to address the backlog of maintenance in National parks.
At the hearing, witnesses, including deputy head of the National Forest System Chris French, expressed support for the legislation. Deputy Director of Policy and Programs, Nada Culver at the Bureau of Land Management, said the BLM supports the CORE Act but would like to work with the sponsors “on a number of changes to facilitate the implementation of the bill.” . No specific changes were made.
Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and graduated in 2021 from American University in Washington, DC