CORE Act clears first hurdle, public lands bill heads to House Floor
This past week, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act became the first Colorado public lands bill in a decade to be passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee. If eventually signed into law, the CORE Act would protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including nearly 100,000 acres of the White River National Forest near Leadville.
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) has been co-sponsor of the omnibus bill, which combines four previously introduced Colorado public lands bills — the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act — into one package.
Combined, the CORE Act will seek to protect more than 400,000 acres of public land for conservation and recreation. Of the land protected, 73,000 acres will be specifically devoted for new wilderness areas, as well as more than 80,000 acres for outdoor recreational use.
Neguse carried the bill on from his predecessor, former congressman and current governor, Jared Polis. Gov. Polis had made a big push to get the Continental Divide act across the finish line before he left federal office, and Neguse made the bill one of his priority pieces of legislation during his first few months in office.
“The fact that the bill was introduced only six months ago, and was able to secure a hearing markup in first six months, that shows how much momentum this bill has,” Neguse told the Summit Daily. “It’s got an overwhelming amount of support from folks on the ground, and it has bipartisan support from local officials, community leaders, business leaders, and the recreation industry.”
For Summit and Eagle counties, the CORE Act would create three new wilderness areas totaling over 21,000 acres in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains. The act would also add more than 20,000 acres of existing wilderness to the Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross wilderness areas.
The bill would also create two new wildlife conservation areas totaling nearly 12,000 acres, including the Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area, the only migration corridor over I-70 for elk, bear, mule deer and other local wildlife.
Aside from the wilderness designation, the act would create the Camp Hale National Historic Landscape, the nation’s first designated historic landscape that would protect nearly 30,000 acres of public land surrounding Camp Hale, the legendary birthplace of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II.
“The Camp Hale Legacy Act is very important,” Neguse said. “It would create the first national historic landscape and honor Colorado’s military legacy. With that designation, future generations will be able to learn about the history of the 10th Mountain Division and how they trained in those mountains to fight the Nazis in the northern Italian Alps.”
The CORE Act passed out of the House Natural Resources committee on a party-line vote of 23 to 15. Among opponents to the bill is Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), who represents Garfield County, where two of three commissioners oppose the Thompson Divide act for its withdrawal of 8,000 acres from oil and gas development. An amendment to the bill will, however, allow leasing for methane collection from mines in the Thompson Divide.
“From my vantage point, I am willing to work cooperatively with anyone who wishes to protect more public lands,” Neguse said. “We will continue to have those conversations with other members of the House, and I am always willing to make improvements to the bill, provided they are consistent with the spirit and intent of this bill, which is protecting these incredible wildlands.”
While there is no current timetable, the bill will eventually be put on the House calendar for discussion on the full House floor. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet in the U.S. Senate.
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