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The House Committee on Natural Resources Wednesday passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act — a big step toward a full floor vote in the Democrat-controlled House and perhaps ultimately conserving 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado.
Introduced by Boulder Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the bill passed out of the committee by a vote of 23-15. It’s the first major Colorado public lands legislation to pass out of the committee in more than a decade.
“I’m proud to champion this legislation, along with Sen. Michael Bennet, that truly was crafted by Coloradans. This legislation has broad local support from counties and towns across the state, as well as support from the outdoor recreation industry, sportsmen, ranchers and conservationists,” Neguse said in a press release.
The bill would add wilderness land in Eagle County, where it’s supported by the county commissioners and some local businesses such as Vail Resorts.
“The CORE Act provides a bold vision and permanent investment in the public lands that fuel our economy, and I’m excited to see it head to the House floor for a full vote,” Neguse added.
Even if it passes a full floor vote in the House, the bill has little chance of even getting a committee hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate – let alone a signature from Republican President Donald Trump.
“Today’s passage of the CORE Act out of the House Natural Resources Committee demonstrates real progress for Coloradans across our state who spent years developing this bill,” Bennet said in a press release Wednesday.
“We are now one step closer to safeguarding some of Colorado’s most cherished public lands for future generations. I’m grateful to Congressman [Joe] Neguse for his leadership in the committee. We will continue our work to move this bill in the Senate and deliver for the people of Colorado.”
Environmental groups also praised the committee vote. Here’s a press release from Trout Unlimited:
CORE Act Cruises
through Congressional Committee
Washington, DC – Trout Unlimited (TU) commends the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources for advancing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act out of committee today. The legislation introduced by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse and Sen. Michael Bennet in January aims to protect some 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, including some of the state’s premier cold water fisheries and critical wildlife habitat.
“For years, Trout Unlimited has fought to protect these important public lands on behalf of Colorado’s sportsmen and women, so we are very excited to see Rep. Neguse shepherd legislation through committee that shares our commitment to honoring the values of hunters and anglers,” said Scott Willoughby, Colorado Coordinator for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “From the prime big game habitat and unique native cutthroat trout fisheries of the Thompson Divide to the pristine headwaters flowing from the San Juan Mountains, the components of the CORE Act answer the call from Colorado sportsmen and women to conserve and enhance the best of Colorado’s great outdoors for generations to come. Now we ask the remainder of Congress to do the same.”
Built on local input, the four-part legislation is the result of decades of collaboration between sportsmen, ranchers, small business owners, veterans, local elected officials, outdoor recreation organizations, and other diverse stakeholders. In addition to boosting Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy and honoring World War II veterans with the nation’s first National Historic Landscape, the CORE Act will ensure that Colorado’s hunting and fishing traditions continue by protecting watersheds, expanding public access and improving critical wildlife habitat. With that in mind, TU is counting on the congressional delegation to help move this bill to the House floor for a vote.
The CORE Act protects
four key areas:
The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act included within the CORE Act protects approximately 200,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands on Colorado’s Western Slope near Carbondale and Glenwood Springs from the impacts of oil and gas leasing and development while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. It also creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines, supporting the local economy and addressing climate change. The area provides vital public land grazing allotments alongside outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing and many other recreational activities, galvanizing local governments, sportsmen, ranchers, recreational users and business owners in pursuit of permanent withdrawal for more than a decade. In addition to supporting conservation populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout in headwaters feeding nearby Gold Medal trout fisheries, the surrounding “high value habitat” includes some of the richest game-management units in the state and generates more than 20,000 big game licenses every year that significantly contribute to Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy. Independent economic analysis conducted by Denver-based BBC Research found that hunting, fishing, grazing and recreation activities in the Thompson Divide support some 300 jobs and $30 million a year in economic value.
Rancher, hunter and angler Tai Jacober said, “The CORE Act is near and dear to my heart because I live at the base of Thompson Divide and I’m an active hunter and cattle rancher. This bill has been put together very carefully over a decade of work and crosses all boundaries. We should do everything we can to support it.”
San Juan Mountains
After more than 15 years of local community collaboration, the resulting San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act portion of the CORE Act includes important protections for the headwaters of the San Miguel, the Uncompahgre and the Animas watersheds through federal designation of wilderness and special management areas. Specifically, the act will designate 31,725 acres of wilderness containing some of the state’s most iconic peaks, including Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak. It will also create the 21,663-acre Sheep Mountain Special Management Area, and protect 6,590 acres from energy development, preserving critically important fish and wildlife habitat and creating sustainable recreational opportunities for generations to come.
“As a passionate hunter, I know first hand how incredibly important roadless habitat is to wildlife, especially our region’s elk herd,” said Jesse Dudley, a San Miguel County hunter.“This year I harvested an elk from the proposed Liberty Bell Addition that will provide my family with a year of great tasting meat, and I hope to be able to continue to do so for many years to come thanks to the protections provided by the CORE Act. Many of my favorite hunting areas are within the proposed boundaries of this bill and that’s a major reason why I wholeheartedly support it.”
Continental Divide and Camp Hale
Passage of the CORE Act will designate Camp Hale as our nation’s first national historic landscape as part of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act. Camp Hale is where the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained to fight in the Italian Alps during World War II and where the seeds were planted for Colorado’s modern outdoor recreation economy built around skiing, hunting, fishing and all the other activities that emerged from that legacy. The bill secures permanent protection for 58,492 acres of vital wildlife habitat, critical watersheds and valuable recreation areas along the Continental Divide. It creates three new Wilderness areas in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains, and expands existing Wilderness designations at Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross while establishing a new Recreation Management Area that maintains important recreation resources and access for mountain bikers, hikers and other users.
“Summit County is very excited for the new CORE Act, of which the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act is an integral part. We thank Senator Bennet and Congressman Neguse for their leadership in this new effort to protect our public lands, and urge Senator Cory Gardner to sign-on to this important legislation,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “Our public lands and Wilderness areas help define Summit County and drive our recreation economy. 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.”
Curecanti National Recreation Area
The CORE Act establishes formal boundaries and places management of the 50,667-acre Curecanti National Recreation Area established in 1965 around Gunnison County’s Blue Mesa Reservoir under the sole direction of the National Park Service. Boundary adjustments will allow for more efficient management of a large swath of public land and ease the burden on multiple agencies. The legislation also enforces an existing Federal obligation to acquire approximately 16 additional miles of public fishing opportunities within the Upper Gunnison Basin upstream of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The act ensures that the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand high-quality public fishing access in the basin, which was lost to inundation when Blue Mesa and Curecanti NRA were created.
“The Curecanti National Recreation Area hosts nearly one million visitors annually and is a vital part of the recreational economy in the Gunnison Basin. We laud Senator Bennet and Congressman Neguse’s efforts in sponsoring legislation that will establish boundaries for the Area and protect it in perpetuity,” said Frank Kugel, General Manager of Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “Curecanti NRA includes Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado, and the water resources and recreational amenities provided by Blue Mesa Reservoir are vital to our state. Thank you Senator Bennet for introducing legislation that will protect this important resource.”