Colorado’s U.S. senators have been granted a hearing by a Senate subcommittee this week on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE) public lands bill, a step toward what they hope finally will be Senate passage of the measure.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining is scheduled to hear testimony on the measure and a host of other public-lands bills Wednesday afternoon.
The measure, S. 173, is being pursued by Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both D-Colo.
The CORE measure combines several public-land initiatives cumulatively covering about 400,000 acres.
Some 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs would be withdrawn from future oil and gas leasing under the measure.
About 73,000 acres of public lands would be designated as wilderness, including acreage in the San Juan Mountains and along the Continental Divide in the White River National Forest. The bill includes an expansion of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area.
It also would designate nearly 80,000 acres as recreation and conservation management areas in places such as the popular Ice Lakes Basin outside Silverton, and the bill would designate the first- ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, outside Leadville, where ski troops trained for service in World War II.
In addition, the CORE measure would formally designate the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area west of Gunnison.
The CORE bill, sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, cleared the House in February as part of a multi-state public lands bill that also included the 660,000-acre Colorado Wilderness Act, sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver. DeGette’s measure covers considerable Bureau of Land Management lands in western Colorado, locally including areas such as the Little Bookcliffs and Demaree, Bangs and Roubideau canyons.
The White House has voiced support for that multi-state bill. DeGette’s measure isn’t part of the Colorado bill the Senate subcommittee will consider Wednesday. In a column posted at the Denver Post website Friday, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called on Bennet and Hickenlooper to support DeGette’s bill, saying it will languish in the Senate unless one of them requests a hearing on it.
DeGette’s measure faces opposition from groups including the Mesa County commissioners, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, whose 3rd Congressional District includes much of the acreage covered by the DeGette and CORE bills, opposes them because of the limitations they would impose on public land uses such as energy development.
Before this year, the CORE bill faced a veto threat from the White House during the Trump administration. It also lacked support from former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., but Hickenlooper defeated Gardner in November’s election.
While the CORE bill, first introduced by Bennet and Neguse in 2019, has cleared the House multiple times, it hasn’t cleared the Senate, which before this year was controlled by a Republican majority.
Bennet and Hickenlooper said in a jointly released statement, “In Colorado, we believe protecting public land drives economic growth. We are grateful for the diligence of community leaders across Colorado who developed the CORE Act over the last 10 years, and we look forward to finally getting this bill across the finish line.”
The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, which supports CORE, said in a e-mail to the public this week that senators won’t be voting on the measure Wednesday, but the hearing on the bill remains “an important step forward.”
Nada Culver, deputy director of policy and programs for the BLM, and Chris French, deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, are among those scheduled to testify during Wednesday’s hearing.