Rep. Joe Neguse stops in Frisco on Wednesday to tout CORE Act passage in US House
FRISCO — The Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 227–182 vote Oct. 31, is the first federal Colorado public lands legislation to pass the House in more than a decade. It aims to protect over 400,000 acres of Colorado public land for conservation and recreation.
The bill combines four previously introduced Colorado public lands bills into one package. Those bills include 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.
The protected land includes 73,000 acres devoted to creating new wilderness areas and 80,000 devoted to outdoor recreation use like hiking, hunting and mountain biking. Aside from the wilderness areas, appropriate motorized recreation use will be allowed on the protected lands in the spirit of the bill’s title promising “outdoor recreation” opportunities.
In Summit and Eagle counties, the CORE Act would create three wilderness areas totaling 21,000 acres in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge, Williams Fork Mountains and at Ute Pass. More than 20,000 acres of wilderness will be added to the Ptarmigan Peak, Eagles Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas.
The act also creates two wildlife conservation areas of nearly 12,000 acres, including the Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area and the Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area.
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, is a co-sponsor of the bill who made it one of his first priorities upon entering office in 2018. Neguse was in Frisco on Wednesday, Nov. 6, touting the successful passage of the bill in the House, which he noted was the only bill passed in the House during the 116th Congress designating specific provisions for Colorado.
Neguse strongly emphasized how the bill appeared uncontroversial at the local level, with the governing body of every local town, city and county affected expressing approval of the portions that affect their localities.
That includes the Garfield County commissioners, who originally had opposed the CORE Act but then wrote a letter to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, the main sponsor of the bill in the Senate, approving of the bill after it included provisions allowing methane capture from mines in the Thompson Divide.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, whose district contains a large percentage of lands protected by the bill, voted against it along with all of the Colorado Republican delegation in the House. Tipton had made strong statements against its passage, contending that the drafters did not adequately take into consideration the concerns of Western Slope communities.
Neguse denied that contention, insisting there was such broad popular support expressed for the CORE act that he was flummoxed as to why his Republican peers would oppose it. He said two of three amendments introduced by Tipton regarding grazing and water rights were included to try to appease his concerns.
“This bill is not a contentious issue,” Neguse said. “Every county commission in the affected area, Republican and Democrat, supports this bill, including (Tipton’s) constituents. Every local municipal leader, from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale to Breckenridge, supports this bill. Ranchers, conservationists, outdoorsmen, outdoor recreation businesses all support it.”
Regardless of passage in the House, the bill faces a much less certain future in the U.S. Senate. Bennet repeatedly has called for the bill to have a hearing in the Senate energy and commerce committee, where it has languished since January, and get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
Neguse said he was unsure where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner stands on the bill after Gardner expressed the same reservations as Tipton regarding lack of input. But Neguse laid much of the blame on the “ghosting” of the CORE Act and other pieces of legislation in the Senate at the feet of Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican.
“It is not dissimilar to how the majority leader is treating all of these incredibly thoughtful and beneficial bills and keeping them from moving forward,” Neguse said. “Whether it’s on gun violence, lowering the cost of health care or climate change action, they all wind up in McConnell’s legislative graveyard. I hope the CORE Act doesn’t share the same fate.”
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