The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor ,227-182, of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act Thursday. The CORE Act is the first Colorado public lands bill to go through Congress in more than a decade.
Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse co-sponsored the bill with Senator Michael Bennet.
“I’m proud to pass legislation on the House floor that was written by Coloradans to conserve the treasured public lands across our state,” Neguse said in a statement. “As representatives in Washington, we should be following the lead of our constituents and local communities, and that is exactly what this legislation proposes.”
The bill heads to the Senate next. If passed, the CORE Act would protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado; 61,000 of which are in the local San Juan Mountains. The bill adds 73,000 acres of new designated wilderness area in Colorado and would ban oil and gas development on the Thompson Divide. The CORE Act would also designate Camp Hale on the Continental Divide as a National Historic Landscape — the first of its kind.
Republican Congressman Scott Tipton voted against the CORE Act. In his statement, Tipton said that he could not support the current version of the bill.
“In its current form the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities which the bill predominately impacts,” Tipton said.
Many local actors, however, disagreed with Tipton’s assessment.
“Representative Tipton’s vote was not unexpected and yet still a great disappointment in light of the overwhelming support for the CORE Act among his constituents, businesses and elected officials in the third congressional district,” said Robyn Cascade, who represents the local chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national nonprofit dedicated to wilderness protection and preservation.
Locally, a recent survey by New Bridge Strategy showed that 63 percent, or about three in five of surveyed residents in the Western Slope, supported “dedicating additional, existing public lands as wilderness areas here in Colorado.”
Specifically, 66 percent support adding more wilderness as outlined in the CORE Act. In counties that would be directly impacted by the bill, support was 75 percent.
In a letter dated Oct. 29, commissioners from San Miguel, Ouray, Gunnison, and Pitkin counties wrote to Tipton urging him to support the CORE Act.
“The San Juan Mountains, Curecanti and Thompson Divide designations, in your district and now in H.R. 823, were carefully, thoughtfully and collaboratively designed by local stakeholders over the course of a decade,” the commissioners wrote.
San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper has been involved in the process to get the CORE Act into Congress for more than a decade. In an interview with the Daily Planet, Cooper explained the commissioners’ position.
“The longevity of these bills, I think just really illustrates just how strongly supported they are by a great majority of his constituents,” Cooper said.
“We wrote this letter out of a pretty deep frustration that Tipton is saying he has not been consulted when he has been consulted since before he was even elected.”
Over 10 years, local government representatives, businesses, ranchers, conservationists and various recreation user groups have worked together to create the CORE Act.
“Across the landscapes designated in the CORE Act, community grassroots efforts have been active in engaging diverse stakeholders for over a decade,” Cascade said.
Cooper agreed, “While we have a lot of respect for how difficult it must be to represent such a diverse constituency in southwest Colorado, we totally disagree with (Tipton’s) statement that not enough has been done to reach out.”
Cooper thanked the members of Tipton’s staff who have collaborated with local government officials, organizations and constituents. Through negotiations and their participation, they changed some of the boundaries of parts of the CORE Act
“A big kudos to Tipton’s staff who have been so willing to work with us,” Cooper said. “There’s really not much else we can do with people who are ideologically opposed to supporting public lands.”
Now that the CORE Act has passed the House, it will face a vote on the Senate. Republican Senator Cory Gardner has not said if he will support the bill yet. With the composition of the Senate, every vote matters.
“We urge Senator Gardner to co-sponsor the CORE Act in the Senate to finally pass this comprehensive lands bill that will benefit Colorado for generations to come,” said Cascade, speaking on behalf of Great Old Broads.
If the CORE Act does pass the Senate, there are concerns that President Donald Trump would veto the bill. Some of his advisors have suggested that he do so, according to Cascade.
“Senator Gardner should reject the Trump administration threat to veto the CORE Act and move forward by co-sponsoring this legislation. His support is essential,” she said.
Even for public lands protections, votes for national legislation still fall largely on party lines.
“It’s just a really unfortunate reflection of the bipartisan divide in Congress,” Cooper said.
As the CORE Act goes to the Senate, local, regional and national officials and organizations are working hard. This weekend, Cascade is traveling to Washington D.C. to lobby on Capitol Hill, accompanied by 14 Great Old Broads leaders from across the country. The representatives are lobbying on public lands and climate change bills. Cascade plans to meet with all the Colorado delegates.
“So we’re not stopping here. The Senate is the next step,” Cascade said.
In San Miguel County, helping pass the CORE Act is vital to the success of the local economy and community, Cooper said.
“We will continue to work with Senator Bennet’s office to call for a committee hearing, and in the meantime, we’ll do what we can to protect these lands until they can be protected by national legislation,” she added.