A multi-state bill that includes new protections for more than 1 million acres of public lands in Colorado won the support of the Biden administration Tuesday, while U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, voiced opposition while noting how far-reaching the bill is when it comes to the 3rd Congressional District that she represents.
The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, or PAW Act, was considered by the House Rules Committee Tuesday, and is now expected to undergo a vote by the House of Representatives perhaps on Friday.
It includes 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. It 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 Colorado Wilderness Act would provide protections for many lower-elevation public lands, locally including in areas such as the Little Bookcliffs and Demaree, Bangs and Roubideau canyons.
CORE would permanently withdraw about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs from future federal oil and gas leasing and provide wilderness or other designations covering nearly 100,000 acres in the White River National Forest along the Continental Divide. It also would designate wilderness or provide other levels of protection for 61,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains, and formally designate the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area west of Gunnison.
The White House in a statement issued Tuesday said it supports the PAW Act because the measure furthers the administration’s goals “for restoring balance to the management of our public lands and waters, creating jobs, confronting the ongoing decline of nature, and aligning the management of America’s public lands and waters with our nation’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals.”
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., spoke of her support for the CORE measure Tuesday during the Senate confirmation hearing on her nomination to be Interior secretary, and also pointed to the administration’s support, when asked about it by U.S. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., a supporter of the CORE bill.
Hickenlooper said in a news release, “The CORE Act represents a historic effort to protect public lands — it is key to helping ensure Coloradans inherit both a thriving outdoor recreation economy and pristine outdoor spaces. We’re thrilled to have President Biden’s support for this crucial, homegrown bill.”
However, the CORE Act and the Colorado Wilderness Act lack the support of the congressional representative for the district where a fair amount of the land they would affect reside. Boebert told the House Rules Committee that the DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act alone would lock up 510,000 acres in Boebert’s district, without creating a single acre of wilderness in DeGette’s district.
Boebert said that wilderness designation is the most restrictive land designation possible.
“It prevents things like bicycling and actively managing our forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires,” she said.
Boebert said DeGette has failed to consult local elected officials in places like Dolores County. Mesa County commissioners also have opposed DeGette’s measure in the past, and Commissioner Janet Rowland has said DeGette hasn’t reached out to the county on the measure over the years.
DeGette told the rules committee that the acreage covered in the Colorado Wilderness Act has almost all been managed as wilderness study areas since the 1980s, and a recent poll showed two-thirds of people on the Western Slope support increased wilderness.
“This bill is a result of many, many years (of effort), not just by myself but by advocates and community activists, to make sure that we protect these very, very special areas,” she said.
Boebert cited the concerns she said she has heard about DeGette’s measure from county commissioners first as a candidate and now in Congress.
“I believe that my election shows the polling in my district. They understand that I was there to advocate for multiple use on public land,” she said.