Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Local officials laud US House passage of the CORE Act

Concerns with misinformation and the Senate

By Mark Reaman

A big step in the implementation of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act was achieved last week when the U.S. House of Representatives voted 227 to 182 on October 31 to pass the legislation. It now goes to the U.S. Senate, where it could face a tougher battle. Local officials who have helped craft the act were excited by the House action but a bit concerned by the next steps.

The CORE Act is the first Colorado public lands bill to go through Congress in more than a decade and would protect more than 400,000 acres of land and ensure future generations have access to some of the state’s most important public lands, including Gunnison County’s Curecanti National Recreation Area and the greater Thompson Divide landscape near Crested Butte.

The bill would add 73,000 acres of designated wilderness area in the state and would ban oil and gas development on the Thompson Divide. The CORE Act would also designate Camp Hale on the Continental Divide as a National Historic Landscape—the first of its kind.

Gunnison County and the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte submitted letters in support of the legislation.

“We are thrilled with the House vote in favor of the CORE Act. The CORE Act protects critical wildlife habitat, valuable watersheds and unspoiled wild places in Gunnison County and beyond. We applaud the leadership from Congressman Joe Neguse and Senator Michael Bennet, and we urge Senator Gardner to join Senator Bennet to pass the CORE Act in the Senate,” said Matt Reed, public lands director at High Country Conservation Advocates in Crested Butte.

Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents the Western Slope in Congress, voted against the bill. “In its current form the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities which the bill predominately impacts,” Tipton said in a statement last week.

Many local people associated with the development of the Act disagreed with Tipton’s assessment.

“While I am very happy to see the CORE Act passed by the House, my hope is that the misinformation that it lacks public vetting and support will be cleared up in the Senate hearing before they vote,” wrote Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck in an email. “Throughout the hearings Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse was able to show that the support is there from local communities that the CORE Act is directly connected to. Over half the CORE Act is in Gunnison County (part of Thompson Divide and Curecanti), and we, like all the counties that contain portions of the CORE Act, support it. While some counties have not taken a position on the whole CORE Act (Montrose and Garfield) they do support the provisions of the Act that directly impact their counties.

“I hope to see Senator Gardner recognize that level of support and join Senator Bennet in working with their colleagues to pass the CORE Act,” Houck continued. “For many years I have worked collaboratively with many community partners on the Curecanti and Thompson Divide elements of this bill and we want to see it be successful. It is time to have the U.S. Senate Pass the CORE Act.”

In a letter dated October 29, commissioners from Gunnison, San Miguel, Ouray and Pitkin counties wrote to Tipton urging him to support the CORE Act. “The San Juan Mountains, Curecanti and Thompson Divide designations, in your district and now in H.R. 823, were carefully, thoughtfully and collaboratively designed by local stakeholders over the course of a decade,” the commissioners wrote to Tipton.

Reed said the CORE Act unites and improves four previously introduced bills: the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, and the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act.

The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act component protects the greater Thompson Divide landscape—including areas in the North Fork Gunnison River watershed in northern Gunnison County—by withdrawing approximately 200,000 acres from future mining and mineral development, while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners.

It also creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines in and around the North Fork Valley. The legislation encompasses mineral withdrawals under federal lands near lands adjacent to the Raggeds Wilderness and West Elk Wilderness.

“This legislation is great news for the Thompson Divide, Kebler Pass and the North Fork Valley, and for Crested Butte residents and visitors who enjoy those places. Precluding future mineral development in the withdrawal area would ensure that wildlife, recreation and historic ranching thrive into the future, while also positively addressing climate change,” said Reed.

The Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act element of the legislation formally establishes the boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Although created in 1965, Reed explained that the boundary has never been designated by Congress, limiting the ability of the National Park Service to effectively manage the area. The bill improves coordination among land management agencies and ensures the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin.

Now that the CORE Act has passed the House, it will face a vote on the Senate. Republican senator Cory Gardner has not yet said if he will support the bill. If the CORE Act does pass the Senate, there are concerns that President Donald Trump would veto the bill. Some of his advisors have suggested that he do so.

“As the bill moves to the U.S. Senate, it is more important than ever that Senator Cory Gardner, who has not yet taken a position on this legislation, stands together with Colorado counties, towns, businesses, recreation groups, sportsmen and conservationists in support the CORE Act,” Reed said.

Gunnison County Commissioners have also decided to write a letter to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton encouraging them to work together at the federal level and “do the work that we’ve done to pass the bill,” said county commissioner John Messner.

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