Conservation groups cheer House passage of Colorado public lands package

By: - February 26, 2021 3:52 pm

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

Colorado conservation advocates are cheering the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of a bill that would establish new or permanent protections for more than 1 million acres of federally-owned land across the state.

By a vote of 227-200, the House on Friday passed H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, with four Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation in support and all three Republican members opposed. The bill is a package of eight public lands proposals, including Rep. Joe Neguse’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act and Rep. Diana DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act.

“In passing the CORE and Colorado Wilderness Acts, the U.S. House moved us one step closer to protecting some of Colorado’s most popular, iconic and historic places,” Conservation Colorado executive director Kelly Nordini said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of so many, our state and nation are one step closer to meeting the 30×30 vision of conserving 30% of our land and water by 2030.”

The Colorado Wilderness Act, the first version of which was introduced by DeGette in 1999, would extend permanent wilderness protections to about 660,000 acres of public land, most of which were granted preliminary “wilderness study area” status in the 1980s, and have been managed as wilderness since then. The CORE Act would establish a variety of protections for more than 400,000 acres, including withdrawing 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development, creating 73,000 acres of new wilderness and designating an area around World War II training site Camp Hale as a first-of-its-kind “National Historic Landscape.”

Both bills were passed twice by the House in the last Congress before stalling in the Senate amid GOP opposition. Though Republicans like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert have continued to denounce the bill as a “land grab,” with Democrats now in charge of both the Senate and the White House, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper expressed their confidence on Friday that the “third time’s the charm.”

“The widespread support for the CORE Act across Colorado speaks for itself,” Bennet said in a statement. “Now that the House has done its job, Sen. Hickenlooper and I won’t stop working until this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

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