In-Depth: Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced this bill to conserve about 400,000 acres of public lands across the state of Colorado:
“I’m proud that the CORE Act was crafted by Coloradans over a decade of collaboration. This bill comes with input from our local elected officials, outdoor recreation businesses, conservation groups, ranchers and sportsm[e]n. Public lands are who we are as Coloradans, they are rooted at the foundation of our state’s economy, they inspire our commitment to sustainability and define our state’s character and I’m grateful to be able to work with community members from across our great state on this bill to preserve and invest in Colorado’s precious public lands.”
After this bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee by a 23-15 vote, Rep. Neguse said:
“I’m proud to champion this legislation, along with Senator 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. 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.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), sponsor of this bill’s Senate companion, says:
“Coloradans spent the last decade hammering out compromises to develop reasonable public lands bills with broad support. 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. Because of this inclusive approach, the CORE Act creates new wilderness areas and preserves outdoor recreation opportunities, so Coloradans can continue to explore the outdoors. Colorado has waited too long for Congress to act on their earlier proposals, but the CORE Act presents a new opportunity to make real progress for our state. I’m looking forward to working with Congressman Neguse to move the CORE Act forward.”
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat who championed this bill’s provisions as a in Congress before he was elected governor, supports this bill. After its committee passage, he said:
“I am thrilled to see the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act pass the House Natural Resources Committee today. As a Congressman, I was proud to champion the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act with Senator Bennet. The CORE Act incorporates this legislation into a robust public lands package that preserves new wilderness areas and new recreation and conservation management areas across the state. I commend Congressman Neguse on his efforts to move a bill that is so important for Colorado’s outdoors, our economy and to celebrate our military heritage.”
The American Alpine Club (AAC) supports this bill:
“The AAC strongly supports the protections embodied in the CORE Act. The Bill conserves outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, safeguards water resources, preserves key public lands and complements the values associated with our state lands. This legislation places a high value on recreation and conservation, and supports the $28.0 Billion outdoor recreation economy in Colorado and the 229,000 jobs associated with it.”
House Natural Resources Committee Republicans expressed this opposition to this bill in the final committee report. In their dissenting views, they cited “drastic reduction of areas open for motorized recreation use,” economic concerns, and “significant opposition to this bill from many Colorado stakeholders”:
“Among the primary criticisms of this legislation is the drastic reduction of areas open for motorized recreation use. The bill offers only 28,000 acres for motorized access versus the roughly 400,000 acres of new wilderness and closures. Rural county commissioners have also raised economic concerns about the areas this bill will remove from multiple-use designation. Instead of a legislative mineral lease exchange, which is supported by the impacted county and would enable energy companies to develop federal minerals in other areas, this bill offers a blanket mineral withdrawal in the Thompson Divide area with zero compromise. Finally, in a State with significant wildfire risk, this bill would further reduce acres that have been identified as suitable for forest management by approximately 8,000 acres. Of most concern to us, is that, contrary to the claims of [s]tatewide consensus made by the sponsors of this legislation, there is significant opposition to this bill from many Colorado stakeholders. Further, this bill does not have the support of any of the Republican members of the Colorado delegation.”
Committee Republicans also objected to the process by which this bill was marked up and the rejection of their proposed amendments:
“[L]ack of engagement [with Republican members] continued during the markup of [this bill] where several amendments offered by Republicans seeking to address major flaws in the bill were rejected on largely party line votes. Among these was an amendment offered by Congressman Doug Lamborn that would have ensured that the important military readiness training conducted at the High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Colorado would not be adversely impacted by this legislation. Also offered at the markup were amendments requiring engagement with an impacted county, the removal of impacted lands in Congressman Tipton's district, and the removal of wilderness designations for lands that do not meet Wilderness Act criteria. All of these amendments were rejected by Committee Democrats, and the legislation advanced without a single Republican vote which bodes ill for its progress in the Senate. If the bill sponsor wants this legislation to serve as anything more than a partisan messaging bill, some long-overdue outreach and genuine efforts at a bi-partisan consensus by the sponsors need to take place.”
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) pushed back against Committee Republicans’ objections. In response to Republicans’ claims that Rep. Neguse didn’t seek stakeholders’ buy-in to this bill, she countered that he sought to find consensus from agriculture, mineral, fishing, hunting, farmers and outdoor recreationists. She argued that while Colorado loves the outdoors, “we’re loving it to death in many ways[,] and that’s why it’s so important that we consider bills like this legislation to promote outdoor activity and also promote preservation of appropriate activity in appropriate places.”
The Trump administration has threatened to veto this bill. In an October 28, 2019 statement of administration policy, it said:
"The Administration has pledged to expand access to America’s public lands, increase hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities nationwide, and enhance conservation stewardship. [This bill], however, would not achieve these goals in a balanced way, and the Administration opposes it as currently drafted. The Administration is committed to managing public lands as a good neighbor to the local communities and to the Americans who live and work in close proximity to them. Engaging local stakeholders and considering their on-the-ground expertise are critical steps in making decisions about public lands management. Rural communities have raised concerns that the land-use restrictions included in [this bill] would have negative effects on local economies, and, as evidenced by the committee process, it appears that local sentiment has not been adequately taken into account when developing this bill. The Administration, therefore, opposes [this bill] in its current form."
This legislation passed the House Committee on Natural Resources by a 23-15 vote with the support of three Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion is sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Vet Voice Foundation, a number of outdoor gear companies (including Osprey Packs, The North Face, and Icelantic Skis), a number of outdoor recreation and sports organizations (including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Trout Unlimited), and conservation organizations (including The WIlderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association) support this bill.
Garfield County, lntermountain Forest Association, Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO), Colorado Snowmobile Association, and the Trails Preservation Alliance oppose this bill.
Of Note: Of the land protected under this bill, 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.
If successful, this bill would be the first statewide Colorado wilderness legislation to pass Congress in over a decade. Commenting on that fact, Rep. Neguse says, “Coloradans have been waiting for over 10 years for Congress to act to preserve the lands they love.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Ron and Patty Thomas)