Several Western Slope county commissioners stepped away from their Club 20 meeting on Thursday to convene at the Sentinel and express support for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act.
They described a years-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.
Eventually, the conversation turned to the elephant in the room — Mesa County's opposition to the CORE Act, which commissioners expressed in a misinformed letter they approved on Monday.
None of the lands covered by the CORE Act are in Mesa County, specifically because county officials expressed early in the process that they didn't want public lands in their jurisdiction to be protected. But on top of making a mockery of the concept of local control, Mesa County commissioners based their opposition on a false claim that the CORE Act proposes wilderness designation for lands in the Thompson Divide. It doesn't.
What the CORE Act does for the Thompson Divide area near Glenwood Springs is withdraw new oil and gas development on 200,000 acres. But it preserves existing rights for leaseholders and even gives them the option to receive credits if they choose not to develop their leases.
Commissioners from other counties whose lands are affected by the CORE Act respectfully suggested that Mesa County should mind its own business — especially since it refused a seat at the negotiating table.
"If you believe in local control, you believe in local control all the time," Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck told the editorial board. "If you're going to use local control as a mantra of doing business, then you've got to support the local control of other governments around you as well. We listen to our constituents and they say this is what they want and we're going to stand behind that. But please (Mesa County commissioners) give us the deference that we're giving you."
The CORE Act 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.
Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse introduced the CORE Act at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver last month, touting it as an investment in Colorado's $62 billion outdoor recreation economy
These are well-vetted public land bills that have an extraordinary amount of support because they've undergone countless revisions to reflect the concerns of stakeholders, said Peter Hart of the Wilderness Workshop. From boundary adjustments to leaseholder credits, changes have virtually eliminated opposition — "except for some of that crazy, potentially uninformed ideological opposition," Hart said.
Indeed, the commissioners present at Thursdays editorial board meeting, representing Ouray, San Miguel, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, said 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.
Sen. Bennet's collaborative stakeholder process is "exactly why we have Congress," said Sarah Shrader, who owns an outdoor recreation-related business based in Grand Junction.
"The federal government is supposed to listen to local communities and put into legislation something that suits everybody," she said. "That's what happened here. Washington politicians, stuck in the D.C. gridlock, listened to local stakeholders and let them negotiate a solution that works for their communities."
Mesa County's "siloed, non-collaborative behavior ostracizes us from our Western Slope neighbors," she added. "There really should be no objection to Sen. Gardner bringing the CORE Act on board."
We agree. These bill have been introduced, reintroduced and reworked to reflect a consensus that Colorado's other U.S. senator, Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton should be supporting.
Meanwhile, Mesa County commissioners should drop the fly-in-the-ointment routine where other counties' interests are concerned. If they truly believe in local control, they'll respect other counties when they exercise it.