U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, standing alongside President Joe Biden and Rep. Joe Neguse, speaks at an event celebrating the establishment of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument near Leadville on Oct. 12, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado’s Democratic members of Congress will try again to pass the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a years-in-the-making package of public lands protections that has been repeatedly stonewalled in recent years by Republican lawmakers.
The latest version of the CORE Act, introduced this week for the third time since 2019, includes the same major components as previous iterations, with the exception of protections for the new Camp Hale–Continental Divide National Monument, which President Joe Biden established through executive action last year.
“Our work is not done,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in a press conference Wednesday. “Every provision in this bill reflects thoughtful collaboration among county commissioners, businesses, ranchers, sportsmen and conservationists.”
Among others at the press conference were CORE Act supporters Sen. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette.
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In all, the CORE Act would establish new or expanded protections for over 420,000 acres of public lands across the sate. Supporters say it’s the product of more than a decade of outreach and collaboration with communities in western and central Colorado.
The package’s four main components are:
- The Continental Divide Recreation and Wilderness Act, which would protect 53,000 acres in Summit and Eagle counties as wilderness or special-management areas.
- The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, which would protect 61,000 acres in San Juan, San Miguel and Ouray counties.
- The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which would prohibit future oil and gas development on more than 250,000 acres in Gunnison, Pitkin and Garfield counties. (This provision would make permanent a 20-year withdrawal proposed by Biden last year and expected to soon be finalized by the Interior Department.)
- The Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act, which would formalize the protection of the Blue Mesa Reservoir and surrounding areas in Gunnison County.
Environmental groups and local government officials applauded the CORE Act’s reintroduction, which came just ahead of Colorado Public Lands Day on May 20.
“After all these years, we certainly hope the CORE Act can finally pass Congress and be signed into law,” Scott Fetchenhier, a San Juan County commissioner, said in a statement. “This type of legislation is just what we need to protect our public lands, bolster our recreation based economy, and help prevent climate change.”
The bill faces uncertain prospects in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Senate where Republicans have consistently filibustered efforts to strengthen public-lands protections. But while Bennet called last year’s Camp Hale designation a “major victory,” he and his Democratic colleagues say they’ll continue to fight to pass the rest of the package.
“The CORE Act remains a testament to the hard work and commitment of Coloradans who care deeply about protecting our public lands for our economy, our heritage and our way of life,” Bennet said. “We have to get this done.”
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