Sen. Michael Bennet and 2nd District Congressman Joe Neguse unveiled Friday the most sweeping public lands legislation for Colorado in nearly three decades.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act combines four different previously introduced public lands bills into a single mammoth package that will seek to protect over 400,000 acres of public land for conservation and recreation. Of the land protected, 73,000 acres will be specifically devoted for new wilderness areas, as well as over 80,000 acres for outdoor recreational use.
The CORE Act is an amalgamation of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.
The Continental Divide, Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act will have the biggest impact for Summit and Eagle counties. That specific bill, which had languished in Congress on its own, will permanently protect over 100,000 acres of the White River National Forest. It will create three new wilderness areas of over 21,000 acres in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains, as well as expand the Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross wilderness areas by over 20,000 acres.
The Camp Hale Legacy portion of the act will also create the nation’s first-ever National Historic Landscape. The designation will permanently protect nearly 29,000 acres at Camp Hale, the historic birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division between Red Cliff and Leadville, for its natural, historic and cultural legacy.
The act also creates two new wildlife conservation areas of nearly 12,000 acres. The Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area would protect Colorado’s only migration corridor over I-70 for elk, bear, mule deer and other wildlife. The Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area would enhance wildlife habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other species.
“Because of this inclusive approach, the CORE Act creates new wilderness areas and preserves outdoor recreation opportunities, so Coloradans can continue to explore the outdoors,” Bennet said in a press release. “Colorado has waited too long for Congress to act on their earlier proposals, but the CORE Act presents a new opportunity to make real progress for our state.”
“In Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, we see first-hand that the health of our environment directly relates to the health of our citizens and the health of our economy,” Neguse said. “I’m excited to introduce a robust public lands package that includes important provisions for Summit and Eagle Counties, Minturn, Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Vail and ensures that here in the 2nd District we can continue to enjoy and benefit from our public lands.”
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who was among the many regional stakeholders who provided input for the CORE Act, lauded the bill.
“Summit County is very excited for the new CORE Act,” Stiegelmeier said. “We thank Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse for their leadership in this new effort to protect our public lands. We have waited too long for these public lands bills to pass and we urge the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation to get behind this important legislation that will safeguard our public lands in a balanced way.”
The CORE Act’s introduction was also lauded by state conservation groups.
“Coloradans love our lands and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse have put together, protecting some of Colorado’s most popular, iconic and historic public lands in a way that is widely supported by locals,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
“This legislation would protect some of the best that Colorado’s public lands have to offer, including pristine watersheds and key wildlife habitat along the Continental Divide, three popular fourteeners and the rugged mountains and ranching heritage of the Thompson Divide,” said Jim Ramey, Colorado state director of the Wilderness Society.
“Colorado hunters, anglers and recreationists have long understood the need to proactively conserve those intact tracts of wildlife habitat and fisheries that sustain our longstanding outdoor traditions,” said Tim Brass, state policy and field operations director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The CORE Act will be formally introduced in Congress by Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse on Monday.