Regular readers of our editorials already know that we’re supporters of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, despite opposition from Rep. Scott Tipton, whose sprawling district includes much of the acreage the public-lands bill deals with.
It’s difficult to understand how a public-lands bill specific to Colorado could be subject to national partisan politics, but that appears to be the case. Having cleared the Democrat-controlled House, the bill faces a tougher road in the Republican-controlled Senate — most likely due to protections and designations that limit full use of the land. Never mind that a broad coalition of Coloradans have endorsed the measure as good for the state because it protects special places that are integral to tourism and our conservation ethic.
The CORE public lands bill covers some 400,000 acres in the state, stretching from the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado to the Continental Divide in the White River National Forest. It would create about 73,000 acres of wilderness, would designate nearly 80,000 acres as new recreation and conservation management areas, and in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs would withdraw some 200,000 acres from future mineral leasing.
The least controversial aspect of the bill, in our view, concerns the Curecanti National Recreation Area, stretching between Montrose and Gunnison along three reservoirs.
As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb explained on Sunday’s front page, Congress never formally designated the Curecanti NRA as a National Park Service unit and established its boundaries under law.
The CORE Act would remove a sense of uncertainty that has hung over Curecanti since 1965, the year the Bureau of Reclamation and the Park Service inked an agreement specifying management of resources. The bureau operates Curecanti’s reservoirs and the Park Service manages recreation in the area of the reservoirs.
For whatever reason, Congress has punted on setting formal boundaries for Curecanti over the ensuing decades. The CORE act calls for the formal boundary to include some transfers of land between federal agencies, which should provide for more efficient management. Curecanti would end up being just over 50,000 acres in size, with the Park Service acquiring some 2,560 acres of national forest land and more than 5,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land.
But as Bruce Noble, the former Park Service superintendent in charge of the Curecanti NRA, told Webb, the CORE Act is “not going to make another acre of federal land that isn’t already federal land, and it’s not asking for the taxpayers to fork over any more money for the National Park Service. It’s budget-neutral and it’s federal- acreage-neutral as far as that goes.”
If fighting over protections and management designations torpedoes the CORE Act, Congress should at least recognize that the Curecanti NRA deserves to finally become a permanent Park Service unit with formal boundaries. It receives 1 million visitors a year. A recreation area that popular shouldn’t lack permanency.