The time has come to bring the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act across the finish line, said backers, who also said the recently reintroduced measure dovetails with recent presidential action on climate change.
“Hopefully, this time is the time that we finally get it done,” Colorado State Director for the Wilderness Society Jim Ramey said.
“Across Colorado, our wild places and outdoor recreation economy are a lot of the reasons why people love it here. Protecting things as they are sustains the way of life people care about. Let’s do it. Let’s pass the thing. It’s a new day.”
The act — known by its acronym, CORE — was introduced earlier this week by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Reps. Joe Neguse, Diana DeGetter, Ed Permutter and Jason Crow. The reintroduced CORE Act saw little change from its previous iteration that last term cleared the U.S. House with bipartisan support, but did not emerge from a Senate committee for vote.
The act would preserve about 400,000 acres of public lands, including designated wilderness in the San Juan mountains and would — at last — formally define the boundaries of Curecanti National Recreation Area. The CORE Act also preserves the Continental Divide, Camp Hale and the Thompson Divide.
The bill incorporates provisions from previously introduced legislation: the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, Curecanti National Recreational Area Boundary Established Act, Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act and the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act.
Of the protected land, about 73,000 acres is new wilderness areas and nearly 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas preserving existing outdoor uses, according to information from the act’s sponsors.
The CORE Act would include a “first of its kind” National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, intended to honor the state’s military legacy and also bars new oil and gas development in certain areas the sponsors say are important to ranchers and sportsmen.
Curecanti was established in 1965, but its boundaries were never designated by Congress, Garrett Garner-Wells, spokesman for Conservation Colorado, said.
“That limits the National Park Service’s ability to effectively manage the area,” he said. The CORE Act would improve coordination between federal lands management agencies and ensure the Bureau of Reclamation upholds a pledge to increase public access to fishing, Garner-Wells also said.
“It will finally make Curecanti an official unit of the National Park Service,” said Bruce Noble, who has advocated for the CORE Act since retiring as superintendent of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti.
“It’s taken since 1965 to get to this point. That’s a big deal, to finally have legislation and be official. I think it will help to clarify certain things in terms of the responsibilities of the National Park Service, relative to the responsibilities of the Bureau of Reclamation, and that will be a helpful thing for both agencies.”
The CORE Act would allow the NPS to at least consider buying Curecanti-adjacent parcels from private landowners who want to sell them, he also said. As it stands now, the NPS can’t really even consider such offers, because the official boundaries are not formalized.
The act’s passage would also lead to some streamlining of management activities by the NPS, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, Noble said.
“I think there will be some efficiencies that come out of it that will be advantageous in the long run,” he said.
“Just a lot of really good things, I think, are going to come out of this legislation.”
Bennet has been working on the Curecanti provision in various bills that led to the CORE Act over the past 11 years, Garner-Wells said.
The CORE Act also fits with President Joe Biden’s recent executive order concerning climate change, supporters said. One provision, the “30 x 30,” aims to conserve at least 30% of oceans and public lands by 2030.
“The goal of protecting 30% of our land and water by 2030 is a science-based goal. Preserving those areas helps us to tackle the connected threats of climate change and erosion of our public lands,” Garner-Wells said.
“We’re very excited. It’s a bill that’s been almost a decade in the making and it got two bipartisan votes and passed in the House last session,” he also said.
The previous bill foundered in the Senate, though, when it could not win full backing by then-Sen. Cory Gardner, who last July said there were issues to work through with landowners, as well as concerns coming from then-Rep. Scott Tipton.
Further, local government leaders like Montrose County Commissioner Roger Rash also were against the CORE Act.
Proponents this time pointed to united support from Colorado’s two senators.
“What we’re hearing from lawmakers is they worked hard on this bill last time. They vetted it with local communities and have gotten so much input,” Garner-Wells said.
“For the last decade, I’ve worked with Coloradans as they designed and drafted the four titles of the CORE Act, a piece of legislation that is representative of what we know to be true in Colorado – protecting our public lands and strengthening our economy go hand in hand,” Bennet said in a provided statement.
“ … the CORE Act was crafted night after night by Coloradans who came together to do something special for the next generation. Our state has waited long enough.”
Stakeholders statewide worked a decade to craft the bill, Hickenlooper, who was previously Colorado’s governor, said.
“The CORE Act is key to ensuring that future Coloradans inherit both a thriving outdoor recreation economy and pristine outdoor spaces. I look forward to it crossing the finish line this Congress,” he said.
Neguse also underscored stakeholder input.
“For over a decade, local communities across our state have thoughtfully collaborated on this legislation that would preserve some of Colorado’s most precious public lands, boost our state’s outdoor recreation economy and honor Colorado’s military legacy,” he said.
“Countless Coloradans have contributed their voices to the creation of this bill, and it’s time for Washington to take notice, and enact this measure into law.”
A Zogby Strategies poll also indicated support for the CORE Act. Support for lawmakers to advocate for its passage came in at 84% over all, including from 77% of Republicans surveyed. Among likely voters who identified as hunters, 75% supported CORE, as did 81% of anglers, according to poll results.
“We know this is a bill folks in Colorado want to see passed. It protects some of Colorado’s most iconic places. We think now is the time to move it forward and get it across the finish line,” Garner-Wells said.
Noble also said he thinks the CORE Act’s chances are good this time around.
“I think the makeup of both houses of Congress would lead to the expectation that the CORE Act should have a really good chance,” he said. “More so than that, I don’t really think it’s a partisan issue. Here in Colorado, we have seen repeatedly a majority of citizens, regardless of party affiliation, are in favor of public lands.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.