Two major Colorado public lands bills cumulatively providing protections for more than 1 million acres are scheduled to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives next week as part of a package measure also including bills in several other states.
The 660,000-acre Colorado Wilderness Act, sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and the 400,000-acre Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, are due to be considered as part of an eight-bill package called the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, or PAW Act, DeGette’s office said in a news release Friday.
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the measure Tuesday. DeGette’s office said a full House vote on the measure is to occur on Wednesday.
The measure also includes protections for 821,000 acres in California; 132,000 acres in Washington, and more than one million acres in Arizona, north and south of the Grand Canyon, the release said.
The measure’s consideration will come only weeks after President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring his administration to develop a plan to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 to help address climate change, the release said.
“If we’re going to be serious about combating the climate crisis, we absolutely must start by preserving more of our public lands,” DeGette said in the release. “Those of us who have been to the magical places included in this bill know how special they are, and why they must be protected for future generations to enjoy. While preserving more of our public lands is important for our environment and economy, it’s also important to the millions of outdoor enthusiasts who visit these majestic areas every year.”
DeGette long has sought passage in Congress of a wilderness bill focused on Bureau of Land Management land, as opposed to the higher-elevation wilderness typically found in the state. Wilderness designation generally prohibits things such as motorized travel and commercial development.
The latest version of her measure seeks protections in 36 areas in western and southern Colorado, including locally in such areas as the Little Bookcliffs and Demaree, Bangs and Roubideau canyons. Over the years, Mesa County commissioners have opposed DeGette’s measure.
The CORE bill is itself a package measure. It would:
■ permanently withdraw about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs from future federal oil and gas leasing;
■ provide wilderness or other designations covering nearly 100,000 acres in the White River National Forest along the Continental Divide;
■ designate wilderness or provide other levels of protection for 61,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado;
■ resolve decades of uncertainty by formally designating the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area west of Gunnison, while also including language aimed at getting the Bureau of Reclamation to provide more public fishing access to make up for that lost when Blue Mesa and other reservoirs were created on the Gunnison River.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, has been critical of the CORE bill and isn’t a sponsor of DeGette’s measure. Both measures have considerable acreage overlapping the 3rd Congressional District she represents in Colorado.
DeGette’s bill cleared the Democrat-controlled House last year as part of a previous version of the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, and Democrats continue to hold the House majority this year. The CORE bill previously has cleared the House multiple times. However, neither measure has gotten through the Senate. Senate passage this year could continue to be a challenge given the 50-50 divide there between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats holding the majority because Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.