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Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse's Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act protects over 420,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establishing new wilderness areas and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations.
Colorado counties, in close coordination with businesses, recreation groups, sportsmen, and conservationists, helped write each element of the CORE Act over the last decade.
Of the land protected, about 71,000 acres are new wilderness areas, and nearly 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas that preserve existing outdoor uses, such as hiking and mountain biking. The bill also prohibits new oil and gas development in areas important to ranchers and sportsmen.
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.
The Continental Divide Recreation and Wilderness Act establishes permanent protections for nearly 53,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide.
This legislation was originally introduced in 2018 as the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act. In crafting the bill, Senator Bennet and then-Congressman Jared Polis collaborated with community leaders, veterans, and businesses in Eagle, Summit, and Grand Counties. In 2022, President Biden designated part of the lands in the original legislation as the Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument. The CORE Act has been updated to reflect the newly designated monument.
Wilderness Areas: The bill creates three new wilderness areas in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge, and Williams Fork Mountains. It also adds additional lands to three existing wilderness areas by expanding Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak, and Holy Cross wilderness areas. Together, these designations total 39,291 acres of new wilderness. Input and support from community leaders in Eagle and Summit Counties led to these designations.
Wildlife: The bill creates three new wildlife conservation areas totaling 14,489 acres. The Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area would protect Colorado’s only migration corridor over Interstate 70 for elk, bear, mule deer, and other wildlife. The Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area would enhance wildlife habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse and other species. The Spraddle Creek Wildlife Conservation Area would protect critical winter range for bighorn sheep, elk, and deer north of 1-70 near Vail.
Other Land Management: The bill addresses a number of management issues in specific areas along the Continental Divide, including adjusting wilderness boundaries around the Trail River Ranch in Rocky Mountain National Park to ensure ongoing access to the property for youth and community education programs.
The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act provides permanent protections for nearly 61,000 acres of land located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. It designates some of the state’s most iconic peaks as wilderness, including two fourteeners: Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak. The bill is the result of more than 10 years of collaboration among local leaders, businesses, and ranchers in San Miguel, San Juan, and Ouray Counties. It has passed out of both Senate and House committees with bipartisan support.
Wilderness: The bill designates 31,725 acres of new wilderness areas near Telluride, Norwood, Ouray, and Ridgway, and adds nearly 23,000 acres to the existing Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels Wilderness Areas. The bill also designates 8,884 acres surrounding McKenna Peak, an existing Wilderness Study Area, as a new wilderness area in San Miguel County.
Special Management: The bill designates 21,663 acres as the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area between the towns of Ophir and Silverton, which includes Hope Lake and Ice Lakes Basin. The bill also creates the 792-acre Liberty Bell East Special Management Area near Telluride.
Mineral Withdrawal: The bill protects 6,590 areas of mineral withdrawal outside of Norwood at Naturita Canyon, prohibiting future mineral development in the canyon.
Nordic Skier Safety: The bill directs the Forest Service to study options to ensure safe access for Nordic skiing in the vicinity of the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area.
The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act protects the Thompson Divide – one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes – by withdrawing over 252,000 acres from future oil and gas development while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. It also creates a pilot program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines, supporting the local economy and addressing climate change, and permanently protects Mt. Emmons, resolving a long-standing community controversy. Since joining the Senate, Senator Bennet has worked with ranchers, sportsmen, local energy companies, and elected officials to ensure the bill reflects the wishes of Gunnison, Pitkin, and Garfield Counties.
In October 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland accepted a proposal from the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service to initiate a 20-year administrative withdrawal for the Thompson Divide. The CORE Act would upgrade this administrative withdrawal to a permanent withdrawal, ensuring the long term protection of the area.
Mineral Withdrawal: The bill permanently withdraws the federal mineral estate covered by 252,000 surface acres in the Thompson Divide near Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Crested Butte from future oil and gas and mining development while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. The proposed mineral withdrawal does not affect any private minerals that may be located within the boundary. It also provides the option for leaseholders to exchange existing Thompson Divide leases for credits that could be used to bid on new leases elsewhere.
Methane Leasing: Based on a request from Gunnison County, Garfield County, Delta County, and natural gas producers, the bill creates a pilot program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in existing or abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley—supporting the local economy and addressing climate change.
The Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) Boundary Establishment Act formally establishes the boundary for the Curecanti NRA. Although created in 1965, the boundary has never been designated by Congress, limiting the ability of the National Park Service to effectively manage the area. The bill improves coordination among land management agencies and ensures the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin. Since 2011, Senator Bennet has worked closely with counties, federal agencies, landowners, and sportsmen to craft the bill.
Boundary Establishment: The bill formally establishes the boundary of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, currently one of only a handful of NPS units without a formal designation by Congress.
Land Management: The bill improves the efficiency of public land management in the area by initiating a series of administrative jurisdiction changes—a step supported by all of the relevant land management agencies that will save taxpayer dollars. It also ensures Bureau of Reclamation jurisdiction over the three dams in the area that play an important role in the Colorado River. Lastly, the bill allows nearby landowners to voluntarily receive assistance from the NPS to conserve natural resources on their property.
Fishing Access: The bill ensures that the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin, which was lost when the Aspinall Unit was created.
No. Of the roughly 420,000 acres in the CORE Act, over half is a federal mineral withdrawal, which has no effect or limitation on any uses in the area except for the prohibition of future oil and gas leasing. Less than a quarter of the acreage, around 71,000 acres, is wilderness, and much of that is the expansion of existing wilderness areas.Return to Top
The CORE Act does not close any existing roads, jeep trails, off highway vehicle trails or motorcycle trails. Claims that the CORE Act will close roads on Ophir Pass, Imogene Pass or the roads to Yankee Boy Basin and Holy Cross City are inaccurate. In developing the legislation, we coordinated closely with motorized users to remove from the proposal all motorized trails that a new designation could affect. Motorized trails that are unaffected include some of the state’s finest snowmobile trails on Kebler Pass and the Sunlight to Powderhorn (SP) Trail.Return to Top
The CORE Act does not close any groomed snowmobile trails. There are groomed trails within the Thompson Divide portion of the CORE Act, but the designations for the Thompson Divide do not affect snowmobiling or other motorized uses. Summer and winter motorized users have been part of the diverse coalition that supports the Thompson Divide legislation.Return to Top
The proposed boundaries of the wilderness and special management areas in the bill were crafted to protect the existing motorized and mechanized road and trail uses, with the trails being located outside of any proposed area that could restrict its use. The CORE Act uses the wilderness buffer distance recommendations from the US Forest Service, which have been used for wilderness bills in Colorado since 1993. This allows for a full range of uses on the trails near the wilderness areas, including motorized use. These buffers will accommodate maintenance on the trails to ensure they can stay open and maintained. The Forest Service is not aware of any lost motorized access from the use of these buffer distances in Colorado. Similarly, we have not received information that suggests motorized use has been lost as a result of these recommended buffer distances.Return to Top
The areas in this legislation were all developed after we received formal written requests from the county commissions in the areas requesting legislation. All of the relevant stakeholders were consulted in the development of the legislation and, over the course of many years, thousands of acres of potential designations were removed from consideration at the request of the motorized community.Return to Top
Senator Bennet, Senator Hickenlooper, and Congressman Neguse led the effort to ask President Biden to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to create a- new National Monument at Camp Hale. In October 2022, President Biden designated the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.
Given the permanent protections afforded by the monument, the Camp Hale National Historic Landscape and Tenmile Recreation Area have been removed from the CORE Act. The CORE Act continues to contain a provision to create the Sandy Treat Overlook, which will honor a 10th Mountain Division veteran who spent many years advocating for the protection of Camp Hale. The bill will also designate the Tenmile Wilderness Area within the boundaries of the monument.Return to Top
In October 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland accepted a proposal for an administrative mineral withdrawal from the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, initiating a two-year segregation prohibiting all new mining and drilling while the agency studies the proposed mineral withdrawal. If approved, an administrative mineral withdrawal would prohibit any new mining and drilling for a period of twenty years on the Thompson Divide.
The progress on the administrative withdrawal is welcome news to the community leaders who have long advocated for permanent protection for Thompson Divide. The CORE Act builds on this success by establishing a permanent mineral withdrawal for the Thompson Divide.Return to Top
No. Congress has not removed any acreage in this bill from consideration for wilderness. While some have inaccurately pointed to the 1980 Colorado Wilderness bill as precluding future wilderness designations, Colorado Senator Will Armstrong (R) noted at the time that the roadless review language used in section 107 of that bill does not mean the opportunity for wilderness designation would be foreclosed in the future. This sentiment was enshrined on page 23 of the Committee Report for the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Bill, which stated: “The decision to not designate these areas as wilderness is made on the basis of the circumstances and information presented to the Committee and is not irreversible. The Committee expects that the Forest Service, under established laws, regulations, and policies, will continue to examine the full range of management options in the preparation and revision of management plans for these areas. If the Forest Service determines in the future that circumstances warrant the designation of these areas as wilderness, new recommendations may be made to Congress” and “[t]he language of section 5 does not prescribe any particular type of management for the lands involved…” Congress has designated a number of new wilderness areas in Colorado since 1980.Return to Top
The CORE Act does not prohibit continued grazing in the areas proposed for wilderness, special management designation or mineral withdrawal. Consistent with earlier wilderness designations in Colorado and elsewhere, the CORE Act provides for the continued grazing of livestock in wilderness areas in accordance with the Wilderness Act and Congressional Grazing Guidelines. Grazing can also continue in all of the other special management designations proposed in the bill. The Thompson Divide provisions were requested in part by local ranchers and grazers and will protect the quality of existing grazing and agricultural uses in the region.Return to Top
The bill explicitly allows the Forest Service to carry out activities that it determines to be necessary to control the spread of insect and disease outbreaks in the proposed Wilderness Areas, as provided under the Wilderness Act. It also allows the Forest Service to carry out any activity it determines to be necessary, including the use of aircraft to fight wildfires in proposed Wilderness areas. Similar language has been included in earlier wilderness bills in Colorado that have passed into law, such as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in 2014. The special management areas have even broader forest and wildfire management provisions.Return to Top
Yes, the bill protects existing water rights. The bill includes “headwaters language” to protect any water rights, water resources, or facilities that exist in areas designated as wilderness by the bill. The headwaters language was first used in the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act. At the request of water community leaders, Congress has included the headwaters language in every Colorado wilderness designation bill passed since 1993, including the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act in 2014. Similarly, the special management areas would protect water rights. In whole, the bill will significantly enhance key watersheds and the quality water they provide to water users locally and across the state. The bill was developed in close consultation with and enjoys strong support from an array of water users and providers.Return to Top