Has a piece of legislation been subject to greater misinterpretation — or misinformation — than the CORE Act?
On three separate occasions this year, critics have taken shots at the bill in a way that supporters say is misleading.
First, Mesa County commissioners came out in opposition to the bill in February on a false proposition that it includes a wilderness designation for the Thompson Divide. It doesn't.
Then, 3rd Congressional District Rep. Scott Tipton penned an op-ed saying he couldn't support the bill because "it appears that local sentiment has not been adequately taken into account when developing this bill."
The Thompson Divide Coalition immediately challenged Tipton's assertion that he wasn't consulted on a bill affecting lands in his district: "That argument is childish and untrue," TDC members responded in a November op-ed, adding that Tipton "has continually ignored" their efforts to engage him on the legislation.
Last month, a letter to the editor from former Grand Junction Mayor Sam Susuras sparked the latest outcry, with several CORE Act supporters asking the Sentinel's editorial board to set the record straight. Chris Muhr did that with a response published in letters to the editor. As supporters of the bill, we think it's important to specify where Susuras' assertions deviate from fact.
Statement: "CORE is yet another act intended to put another 400,000 acres in wilderness designation. It has been turned down in the past."
Response: The bill would not designate 400,000 acres of wilderness areas. It would designate 73,000 acres of wilderness, 80,000 acres of new recreation and conservation management areas, the Camp Hale National Historic Landscape, 200,000 acres of a mineral withdrawal, and it would formally establish boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. The CORE Act hasn't been "turned down" in the past. It was introduced this January and passed through the House in October.
Statement: "Like much of western Colorado, Mesa County is 70% federal land. Designating larger wilderness areas will restrict our use and growth."
Response: The CORE Act boundaries do not lie within Mesa County. The legislation has support from the counties that are included (Eagle, Summit, San Juan, Ouray, San Miguel, Gunnison, Pitkin) and Garfield County has supported the component of the bill within their jurisdiction (Thompson Divide).
Susuras also mentioned in different parts of the letter that grazing rights, water rights and forest management will be "denied" or will not be allowed.
Response: All existing grazing rights are honored and water rights are respected. Any land designated as wilderness is through an amendment to the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act, which has extensive language protecting water rights and grazing would be managed under the Congressional Grazing Guidelines, which have been in effect since 1979. The Wilderness Act provides broad and flexible guidelines for forest management in wilderness. "…such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases, subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable." (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(1)).
Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse introduced the CORE Act at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver last winter, touting it as an investment in Colorado's $62 billion outdoor recreation economy.
The bill unites and improves four previously introduced bills: The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.
The CORE Act is a result of a decade-long collaborative process to shape the legislation, drawing the input of counties, businesses, ranchers, outdoor recreation groups, conservationists and sportsmen to protect — through a variety of designations — about 400,000 acres of public land largely situated on Colorado's Western Slope.
Our support stems from a conversation with county leaders representing Ouray, San Miguel, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, who told the editorial board that the CORE Act provides common-sense provisions to protect watersheds, ranching, hunting and recreation, while largely protecting existing uses. Less than a quarter of the proposed protections involve a wilderness designation.
They described a process that led to an extraordinary amount of support because the previously introduced bills that make up the CORE Act have undergone many revisions to reflect the concerns of stakeholders. From boundary adjustments to leaseholder credits, changes have virtually eliminated opposition — except here.
Mesa County passed on the opportunity to be part of the discussions that led to the CORE Act's language, yet Mesa County activists seem to be trying hardest to torpedo the legislation. Hopefully, a clean slate of facts will persuade Western Slope residents that the CORE Act is good for Colorado and they will call on Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner to support its passage.