Colorado lawmakers debate public lands legislation on House floor

By: - February 25, 2021 6:11 pm

The Thompson Divide is a 200,000-acre area within Colorado’s White River National Forest. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Democratic and Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation on Thursday took sharply differing positions on a major package of public lands legislation as it was debated on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Lafayette and the newly elected chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, led his fellow Democrats in support of H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. The bill is a package of eight conservation proposals, including Neguse’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act and the Colorado Wilderness Act, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver.

“The bill seeks to protect some of our nation’s most treasured public lands,” DeGette told colleagues during Thursday’s floor debate. “Not only will it help protect the air we breathe and the water that we drink, but also the wildlife that call these untouched areas home, and the world-class recreation opportunities that they provide.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican whose 3rd Congressional District includes many of the areas in Colorado that are affected by the bill, continued her opposition to what she called a “massive land grab,” faulting DeGette for moving forward with the bill without her support.

“Can anyone here imagine me legislating away any part of Denver or Boulder?” Boebert asked. “After the past year of statewide lockdowns, the last thing communities in my district need is further restrictions imposed by the federal government on what they can do on public lands.”

Neguse dismissed claims by Boebert and other Republican opponents of the bill that the permanent wilderness designations established by DeGette’s legislation would hinder efforts to mitigate wildfire risk. Though wilderness areas generally prohibit motorized equipment and industrial activity, the federal Wilderness Act provides exceptions for such efforts “as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases.”

A final vote on H.R. 803 is expected on the floor of the House on Friday, following an opportunity for members to propose amendments to the bill.

“At the end of the day, we have an obligation to leave our environment better than we found it,” Neguse said. “That’s what this bill is all about — protecting the most iconic and beautiful places in the United States of America.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.