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County commissioners in support of proposed CORE Act

Impacts Curecanti National Recreation Area, surrounding areas

By Cayla Vidmar

Local governments are getting on board to support the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act. The Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) drafted a letter of support for the CORE act in February, stating, “These areas are the source of our clean air and water and the wellspring of our identity and history.” The Crested Butte Town Council also submitted a letter of support for the act.

Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Joe Neguse announced at the end of January the introduction of the CORE Act, which aims to protect 400,000 acres of public lands. The bill combines a number of previous proposals, protecting areas across the state of Colorado.

The CORE act is the result of a decade’s worth of hard work and compromise, says Senator Bennet, who, on the banks of the Slate River, challenged the Gunnison Valley community to “invite a diversity of stakeholders to the table and discuss what we want to see our public lands look like long into the future,” according to the BOCC letter of support.

This challenge was extended to Coloradans as a whole, and a decade later, “The CORE act combines the best of those proposals, reflecting their bold vision to boost our economy and protect our public lands for future generations,” according to Bennet’s website.

The act contains four elements, including the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and, locally, the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.

All told, the act protects 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado.

Just down river from Crested Butte, the Curecanti National Recreation Area stands to receive a boundary designation. According to the CORE Act information page, the park was created in 1965, but the boundary was never designated by Congress, “limiting the ability of the National Park Service to effectively manage the area.”

“Since Curecanti was established in the mid-60s, we’ve operated under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bureau of Reclamation, which means we have no established boundary and no enabling legislation,” writes Sandy Snell-Dobert, public information officer for Curecanti National Recreation Area.

“The legislation under the CORE Act would not change any of the current rules, regulations or activities in the recreation area. It would simply establish a more permanent and official boundary,” Snell-Dobert concludes.

Just over the hill, in the North Fork Valley, the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act aims to withdraw “approximately 200,000 acres from future oil and gas development… It also creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines.” The Thompson Divide encompasses land within Gunnison, Pitkin and Garfield counties, and is situated above organic farming and ranching operations in Paonia and Hotchkiss.

To the north, in the White River National Forest, along the Continental Divide, the act establishes permanent protection for nearly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation and conservation areas. And to the south, in the San Juan Mountains, the act protects nearly 61,000 acres of land, including two Fourteeners, Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak.

During the BOCC meeting in February, commissioners discussed the letter, and chairperson Jonathan Houck stated, “Two of the four elements strongly impact the Gunnison country, in Curecanti and also a good portion of Thompson Divide, both of those bills this board has supported in the past.”

Commissioner John Messner writes the Thompson Divide bill “was a result of years of stakeholder work that included western slope counties, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation groups, extractive industries, ranching and agriculture and wildlife organizations.”

Public lands director for High Country Conservation Advocates Matt Reed writes, “The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Area encompasses federal mineral withdrawals near Crested Butte, including the iconic Kebler Pass landscape along County Road 12, lands near Ohio Pass, and lands adjacent to the Raggeds Wilderness and West Elk Wilderness.”

Reed stresses this bill is “good news” for residents of Crested Butte and visitors who enjoy Thompson Divide, Kebler Pass, and the North Fork Valley. He concludes, “Precluding future mineral development in the withdrawal area would ensure that wildlife, recreation, and historic ranching thrive into the future.”

In the midst of local support, Mesa County commissioners submitted a letter to Senator Bennett’s office, which raises concerns about the Thompson Divide section of the CORE act. The letter cites concern for a wilderness designation for the Thompson Divide, which the CORE act does not actually include, nor does any of the Thompson Divide section include land in Mesa County.

“We find the proposition of a wilderness designation for the Thompson Divide area, perpetually eliminating the opportunity for multiple use, as unacceptable,” the letter from Mesa County commissioners states.

Reed says “Mesa County commissioners took an uninformed public stance against the Thompson Divide component of the CORE act, and against something that not even exists,” referencing the lack of a wilderness designation in the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, and the misrepresentation in the letter from Mesa County commissioners.

With a desire to bolster local control, Houck emphasizes that the Thompson Divide portion of the Act came together through a wide range of local public work and support. “Its supported by ranchers, and recreationalists, and people aren’t losing access to motorized trails, or grazing permits, it’s literally removing the mineral opportunity.” He also noted that that local support comes from the communities and counties in which the Thompson Divide act actually impacts.

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