Camp Hale was just a start for CORE Act public lands, lawmakers argue

When President Joe Biden arrived in Colorado last fall to designate Camp Hale a national monument, it marked a peak for a decade-long effort to expand Colorado’s public lands.

Seven months later and some of Colorado’s top Democrats are hoping it was more like a false summit.

Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse, all Democrats, are set to re-introduce the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy, or CORE, Act this Congressional session. The bill has passed the House of Representatives multiple times, but always stalled in the Senate. The lawmakers announced the renewed effort Wednesday.

Previous versions included the Camp Hale-Continental Divide protections. Even with the national monument designation, which protects about 54,000 acres of high country, the CORE Act seeks to add about 400,000 acres of protected lands.

“President Biden’s actions on Camp Hale and the Thompson Divide are a victory for Colorado’s environment, for our $10 billion outdoor economy, and the legacy of public lands that we owe the next generation,” Bennet said during a joint tele-press conference announcing the reintroduction of the bill. “But everybody on this call knows our work is not done.”

The bill would include wilderness designations for the San Juan Mountains, the Thompson and Continental divides and define the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Backers of the proposal point to a wide swath of support that includes local governments, ranchers and veterans. However, it’s received some pushback because it would stop mineral extraction and could limit other uses. One of its detractors includes U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican whose Western Slope district includes much of the land that would be covered by the proposal.

“The CORE Act is a partisan land-grab promoted by big-city Democrats who aren’t affected by the land-use bureaucracy that they are shoving down rural Colorado’s throat,” Boebert said in a statement. “Despite roughly 65% of the lands affected by this bill being in my district, I was never consulted on this bill. While locking up land may sound good to the swamp, it doesn’t work for the people who actually live there.”

Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, said the bill has received Republican votes in past Congresses and argues local support transcends political divide.

“The CORE Act has, every year it has been considered, grown in support,” Neguse said. “It’s passed on a bipartisan basis the last several years. I’ve lost count now how many times we’ve passed it out of the House.”

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