The U.S. House on Tuesday passed the CORE Act, which aims to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of Colorado public lands and waters, as a rider to a national defense bill.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which includes protections for the Thompson Divide area west of Aspen, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The act also would designate Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained during World War II, as the nation’s first National Historic Landscape.
“Veterans, sportsmen, small business owners, and conservation and recreation groups across Colorado welcomed a vote in Congress today that helped move important public lands legislation forward,” a news release from Wilderness Workshop says.
The Carbondale-based nonprofit has worked for more than a decade to protect the Thompson Divide and surrounding roadless areas. In the late 2000s, Wilderness Workshop and others joined together to form the Thompson Divide Coalition with the goal of eliminating the threat of gas drilling from the area.
Bipartisan support for the CORE Act amendment included U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow, all of Colorado, the release states. The act was introduced by Neguse and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in January 2019 and was passed by the House with bipartisan support last fall.
Only a few legislative days are left in the current session of Congress. Wilderness Workshop says the proposed national defense authorization offers the U.S. Senate the opportunity to advance the protection of public lands.
“The [national defense bill] offers such a way, as the House and Senate reconcile their versions of the bill; the last major public lands bill for Colorado was passed in the 2015 [national defense bill] to protect the Hermosa Creek wilderness and watershed,” the release says.
Wilderness Workshop’s release states, “It is more clear than ever how important Colorado’s public lands and waters are to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people have turned to nature for their physical, emotional and mental health. Coloradans have always known that outdoor recreation and rural communities are the backbone of the state’s economy, and the pandemic has made that even clearer.”
Numerous stakeholders have been working for decades to protect for future generations the pristine areas of the Thompson Divide, San Juan Mountains, Continental Divide, Curecanti and the historic WWII training grounds at Camp Hale, the release says.
“The Thompson Divide Coalition has been working for over a decade to protect the long-term viability of grazing, hunting and recreation that have supported and been enjoyed by many generations of my family and other families on the public lands of the Thompson Divide,” said Judy Fox-Perry, a rancher and member of the Thompson Divide Coalition, in a prepared statement.
The watersheds, wildlife and healthy biodiversity of the Thompson Divide parcel of mid-elevation productive habitat on public lands is “invaluable to the ranchers and all who base their livelihoods on resources from this outstanding landscape,” Fox-Perry added.
Kathy Chandler-Henry, an Eagle County commissioner, said in the release that public lands define the American spirit and continue to be a place where people go to gain strength and resiliency.
“Our reliance on public lands is especially apparent in this time of challenges from COVID-19. The CORE Act will designate Camp Hale as National Historic Landscape and preserve important wildlife habitat prized by local hunters and anglers. We are hopeful that the CORE Act passes the U.S. Senate so current and future generations can always have a place to go for reflection, growth and adventure,” she said.