Stakeholders hopeful CORE Act will be signed this year

Bipartisan compromise a selling point

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Optimism reigned Tuesday afternoon as local and national politicians expressed confidence over a Zoom call that the CORE (Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy) Act will make it into law this year. U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper along with Congressman Joe Neguse, introduced the public lands protection legislation that has ties to Gunnison County and would impact both Curecanti and Thompson Divide into both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Bennet, Hickenlooper and Neguse, along with county commissioners from impacted counties, including Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck, all emphasized the local and bipartisan efforts involved in crafting the bill that will protect more than 400,000 acres of public land.

“This is one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation I’ve worked on while in the senate,” said Bennet. “Republicans and Democrats worked together on the ground to figure out compromise. This was a bill written by Colorado, not Washington and it is the most significant public lands bill for Colorado in over a quarter century.”

“It is so important that local communities made this push,” added Hickenlooper. “It is breathtaking that so many county commissioners worked on and supported this whether they were Democrats or Republicans.”

Neguse noted that the legislation would boost the state’s recreational economy and he said it is clear that it came about as the result of careful collaboration between a variety of groups that worked on it for more than a decade.

“Gunnison County is so lucky to have been in the middle of the conversations that started with local communities,” said Houck. “Both Thompson Divide and Curecanti are important to the county as is all public land. Clean air and clean water is protected in part from protecting public lands and Coloradans have always been good public stewards of these lands. We are grateful to have been a part of this team.”

Overall the legislation protects more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establishing new wilderness areas and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations. Approximately 200,000 acres between the Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys will be protected from the impacts of new oil and gas leasing with Thompson Divide. Local governments, ranchers, recreationalists, and business owners have been requesting this permanent withdrawal for over a decade. It would also establish the boundary around the 43,000-acre Curecanti National Recreation Area, formally making it an official unit of the National Park System. The area was established in 1965, but has never been designated by Congress.

Hickenlooper was this week appointed to the senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee and that should help him to shepherd the legislation through the committee and Senate. “It will take a lot of work to get it done but it means a lot to have the support of people from both political parties,” he said. “It is a beautiful bill and the sooner it is passed, the better.”

Bennet admitted that given inherent dysfunction in the senate, it might be tougher than it needs to be to push it along. “But the great strength of the bill is that it has bipartisan support across the Western Slope.”

Houck said bundling separate pieces of legislation into this CORE Act should help make it more attractive to the legislators in Washington. “These lands belong not to us living nearby but to all the American people,” he said. “We have seen increasing use of public lands by the public not just as a result of the coronavirus but before that. These landscapes are meaningful to people.”
Bennet admitted that given inherent dysfunction in the senate, it might be tougher than it needs to be to push it along. “But the great strength of the bill is that it has bipartisan support across the Western Slope.”

Of the total land protected, about 73,000 acres are new wilderness areas, and nearly 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas that preserve existing outdoor uses, such as hiking and mountain biking. The bill also includes a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale to honor Colorado’s military legacy and prohibits new oil and gas development in areas important to ranchers and sportsmen.

The CORE Act unites and improves four previously introduced bills: 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.

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