public lands

Kelly Wolf gazes out toward Silverton on a trail above Ophir Pass. The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act this week, which if passed, would protect 61,000 acres of public lands in the San Juan Mountains. (File photo)

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act this week. Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse co-sponsored the bill with Senator Michael Bennet.

“I’m incredibly pleased with the momentum we have seen for this legislation, it is a true testament to Colorado’s commitment to investing in our treasured public lands and outdoor recreation economy,” Neguse said in a statement.

The CORE Act is the first Colorado-centric bill to be introduced to Congress this year. It is also the first Colorado wilderness legislation in more than a decade. If successful, the CORE Act will protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including 61,000 acres in the local San Juan Mountains.

Around 200,000 acres, nearly half of the protected land, is on the Thompson Divide. The CORE Act would bar oil and gas development on the Thompson Divide and would also initiate a plan for a methane capture pilot project near Carbondale.

The CORE Act would give protections to 73,000 new acres of designated wilderness area in Colorado. The bill would also give special National Historic Landscape classification to Camp Hale on the Continental Divide in Summit and Eagle counties. Camp Hale would be the first area in the nation to receive this special designation.

Republican Congressman Scott Tipton has not yet endorsed the CORE Act. In July, Tipton introduced his own wilderness legislation, the Colorado Recreation Enhancement and Conservation (Colorado REC) Act.

The Daily Planet reached out to Representative Tipton’s office to see whether he would support the CORE Act now that is scheduled for a House vote. Tipton introduced several amendments to the bill, which will determine his support, according to Matthew Atwood, Tipton’s spokesperson.

“His support of the bill largely depends on whether these amendments are adopted or not,” Atwood wrote in an email.

Of Tipton’s 11 proposed amendments, three were approved by the House Rules Committee to be incorporated into the version of the CORE Act that will be up for a full vote in the House.

The first amendment proposed by Tipton is specific to Curecanti National Recreation Area in Gunnison. Under Tipton’s amendment, the CORE Act does not establish “an express or implied Federal reservation of any water or water rights.”

Tipton’s second amendment guarantees that grazing will still be allowed in the Thompson Divide area, even after the CORE Act protects the area and ends oil and gas development there.

The third sets parameters for land transfers between the Forest Service and the National Park Service “based on management under a current memorandum of understanding.”

In his testimony during the House Rules Committee meeting Monday, Tipton said, “The amendments I’ve offered today represent an ongoing process which should continue and not come to an end in the premature vote that has not been fully vetted by those who do not have to live under it.”

Tipton added that he does not feel that all of the actors, especially in his district — the 3rd congressional — are represented in the CORE Act.

“I represent the district where most of my colleagues’ bill would have an impact. I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak out on the behalf of many of my constituents who have yet to have their voices heard in this process,” he said.

Tipton called for the scheduled vote to be reconsidered.

Ophir Mayor Corinne Platt encouraged Tipton to support the bill.

“We really appreciate his push for the REC Act and the wilderness bill, but it would be stronger if he would endorse the CORE Act,” she said. “It’s been 10 years in the making and so much has gone into it.”

Platt applauded the ability of different interest groups to work together for this bill.

“In general, the CORE Act accommodates so many different interest groups. It’s done that very well,” she said.

Platt noted that the CORE Act represented the interests of the local community.

“Senator Bennet is a great friend to us in Ophir. And now we hope Senator Gardner will move it into the Senate,” Platt said.

The new wilderness protections in the CORE Act encompass Ophir’s source water protection plan, which focuses on water scarcity and preservation.

“It feels really good to have two levels of protection,” Platt said. “Overall, anytime you choose wilderness or protect wilderness, it’s going to add access to clean water and wildlife corridors.”

For Platt, the CORE Act is special because it protects wild resources across the whole state and not just at local levels.

“What feels really great about the CORE Act to is it’s not localized. It’s part of a large wilderness network across the state,” Platt said. “We all came together as allies.”

Professional climber Tommy Caldwell also encouraged Tipton to vote for the CORE Act. Caldwell testified before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis last month. When Caldwell was on Capitol Hill, he also met with Tipton with Protect Our Winters organizers. Protect Our Winters Protect Our Winters is “a 501 nonprofit that turns passionate outdoor people into effective climate advocates to affect systemic political solutions to climate change,” according to its mission statement.

“Strive to look past the political divide and do what’s best for Colorado and what the citizens want,” Caldwell said in an interview with the Planet.

Caldwell’s testimony focused on protecting the Arctic Refuge from drilling and extraction, but he supports the CORE Act for similar reasons.

“Reducing extraction is a priority, and I think protecting public land is a huge part of that,” he said. “Everybody should have a role.”

The final House vote will be later this week.