The Thompson Divide, a 200,000-acre area within Colorado’s White River National Forest, has faced the looming prospect of natural gas drilling since the early 2000s. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)
Colorado conservation advocates were left disappointed this week after congressional negotiators announced a compromise on a $731 billion defense spending bill that didn’t include a pair of public-lands bills passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
The conference committee for the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, convened last month to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the annual military appropriations bill, released its final report on Thursday night. While the House NDAA package, passed in July, included Rep. Joe Neguse’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act and Rep. Diana DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act, both proposals were stripped from the final version of the bill after negotiations with Senate Republicans.
“It’s shameful that Senate Republicans refused to include any of our public land bills in the final version of this year’s NDAA,” DeGette, who was appointed by House leadership to the conference committee, said in a statement. “We are already working to continue building upon the momentum we have garnered behind these important pieces of legislation — and we will continue searching for any opportunity to get them passed and signed into law, whether it be this year or next.”
The NDAA conference process was widely viewed as the best chance for the CORE Act — which received its first hearing in the Senate last month but has stalled amid a lack of support from departing GOP Sen. Cory Gardner — to pass in the lame-duck session of Congress.
Together, the two bills would have established or strengthened protections for more than 1 million acres of public land across Colorado, including the withdrawal of more than 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development and the creation of the country’s first National Historic Landscape at the site of Camp Hale, a World War II-era training facility in Eagle County.
“It’s never fun to come up short, especially when you get as close as Colorado did to protecting over 1 million acres of public lands,” Beau Kiklis, public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the Biden administration and our pro-conservation delegation to pass the CORE and Colorado Wilderness Acts in the next Congress, moving our state and country closer to the vision of protecting 30 percent of our lands and water by 2030.”
Update, 5:16 p.m.: This post has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Diana DeGette.
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