Commentary

Preserve Camp Hale and other public lands for future generations

Wilderness bill will protect Colorado’s robust outdoor recreation economy

September 24, 2021 4:45 am

A view of Camp Hale in Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

During a recent visit to the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, I learned that by the end of World War II in 1945 the U.S. had 89 Army divisions deployed overseas, including 68 in Europe: 47 infantry, 16 armored, four airborne and one mountain — the 10th Mountain Division.

Many Coloradans know that the 10th Mountain Division was activated at Camp Hale, Colorado, on July 10, 1943. From November 1942 through June 1944, Camp Hale housed some 15,000 troops (along with 4,000 mules and 250 sled dogs) of the 10th Mountain Division, who learned to rock climb, perform military maneuvers on skis, and endure a brutal climate in preparation for mountain warfare. Over 18 grueling months soldiers trained to fight at high altitudes.

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During February 2021 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act — H.R. 803 — which aims to preserve some 3 million acres across Colorado, California, Washington and Arizona. The legislation is a collection of nine separate public lands bills the House approved last year – including Rep. Diana DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act (CWA) and Rep. Joe Neguse’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act.

The CORE Act would protect Camp Hale by creating the first-ever National Historic Landscape, preserving nearly 29,000 acres surrounding Camp Hale, which is located 17 miles north of Leadville. CORE would also boost the state’s outdoor recreation economy, which recently generated some $12.2 billion (total outdoor recreation value added) and $6.4 billion in wages and salaries. A 2018 poll found that 96% of Coloradans see the outdoor recreation industry as important to the state’s economic future.

In addition, Colorado College’s 2021 Conservation in the West survey found that 81% of Coloradans support a national goal of protecting 30% of America’s lands and oceans by 2030. As most hunters and anglers know from experience, wilderness protection is the gold standard for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. On Aug. 31, President Biden issued a proclamation declaring September 2021 to be National Wilderness Month.

“During National Wilderness Month, let us strengthen our connection to the American wilderness areas, support their designation and protection, and work to preserve the stories they tell, the memories they create, and the heritage they reflect for all Americans for generations to come,” the proclamation stated.

Unfortunately, two of Colorado’s U.S. House representatives are misinformed about the positive economic, and other, impacts of wilderness. Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn incorrectly stated that this bill would “work against local economies” and is a “threat to … local economies.” Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert called the bill a “Democrat land grab.”

The CORE Act is a result of a decade-long collaborative process, drawing the input of counties, businesses, ranchers, outdoor recreation groups, conservationists and sportsmen to protect — through a variety of designations — our shared public lands. In addition, as DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, said about the Colorado Wilderness Act, “It’s been vetted, it’s been revetted, it’s been revetted again. It has strong reasons for designation … and it has strong local support.”

As a result, CWA/CORE/H.R. 803 — like the 10th Mountain Division — lives on. After a couple of hiatuses, the 10th was reactivated in 1985 at Fort Drum, New York, and since then its troops have been deployed to Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan. No matter where they’re based, members of the 10th honor their alpine legacy by retaining the Mountain tab on their sleeve insignia.

H.R. 803 will help protect and perpetuate our robust outdoor recreation economy and hunting/angling heritage by ensuring that some of our great public lands estate remains intact for current and future generations. In addition, it honors our World War II veterans, America’s greatest generation. Join Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in thanking representatives who supported House passage of H.R. 803, and encourage your senators to follow suit.

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David Lien
David Lien

David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”

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