Senator Doubles Down on Push to Include Public Lands Legislation in Final Defense Authorization Bill
Washington, D.C. - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining, moving the legislation one step closer to becoming law.
“[W]e are here because of the hard work of so many Coloradans, over the last decade, to hammer out compromise and find the best way forward. To identify shared values and, despite disagreements, to work together to find solutions. To broker compromises, adjusting boundaries, and modifying designations, until each of the four proposals reflected local interests,” said Bennet in his written testimony, submitted for the Congressional Record.
“With such a diversity of locally developed, and decades-in-the-making, land management designations, protections, and safeguards, it is not surprising that the CORE Act enjoys support from across the State of Colorado. Most importantly, the CORE Act has the full support of 7 counties, 12 towns and cities, and the State of Colorado,” continued Bennet. “Coloradans asked Congress to pass the CORE Act, and its components, for many years...It is our time to act in the Senate. I look forward to working with Chairman Murkowski, Ranking Member Manchin, and the members of this Committee to do our job in the Senate, respect the wishes of Colorado, and pass the CORE Act into law.”
In addition to celebrating this long-awaited step forward in the Senate, Bennet doubled down on his previous calls for the CORE Act’s inclusion in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Today’s hearing comes as the House and Senate work to reconcile the differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of the NDAA. The House and Senate may formally send the defense authorization bill to conference in the coming weeks.
The CORE Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives for a second time as an amendment to the NDAA in July, and Bennet has repeatedly called for the final NDAA to retain the CORE Act. In September, Bennet, U.S. Representative Joe Neguse, and U.S. Representative Jason Crow, a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, convened a group of public lands leaders, veterans, and local elected officials at the Divide Trail in Colorado to advocate for the CORE Act’s inclusion in the final FY 2021 NDAA. In October, Bennet and Neguse urged the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees to include the CORE Act in the final FY 2021 NDAA. The last Colorado wilderness bill signed into law was Bennet and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which passed in 2014 in the annual NDAA.
“As a veteran who proudly wore the 10th Mountain patch into combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I consider Camp Hale to be a national treasure. As a Coloradan that uses that land to heal my scars of war, it’s a hallowed piece of ground that must be preserved and protected. Camp Hale needs to carry the distinction of being our nation's first National Historic Landscape to honor the sacrifice and strength of the veterans that trained there during WWII. With only a few of them remaining, we need to act fast and honor their service by passing the CORE Act. Climb to Glory, To the Top!” – Mike Greenwood, 10th Mountain Veteran
“It is great that the CORE Act finally received the hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This collection of public land designations, built by local communities, is a true example of a non-partisan and stakeholder driven bill whose attributes have long deserved a hearing. The special places protected by the CORE Act are needed more than ever for their ability to provide calm, quiet spaces, preserve a cultural heritage and promote common stewardship.” – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner
“The Thompson Divide Area, it’s so critical for us and our neighboring ranchers and for the whole community. We rely on it for summer range for our cattle and to keep our watersheds intact. Congress has taken too long to pass this important bill and today’s hearing is a good step forward. I hope the Senate can take action to pass this bill as soon as possible so our ranching operation and our community can continue to thrive for many more years.” – Bill Fales, Rancher from Carbondale
“It's time for the Senate to pass the CORE Act. This important bill strengthens Colorado's Recreation Economy and has been thoroughly vetted and is supported by stakeholders throughout the state. Eagle County thanks Senator Bennet for his stewardship of public lands; our grandchildren will be grateful for these treasured additions in western Colorado.” – Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County Commissioner
“Hunters, anglers and everyone else who shares our passion for Colorado's wildlife and wild places recognize the enduring benefits of the CORE Act and remain committed to seeing it signed into law. With more than 2,400 stream miles and hundreds of thousands of acres of critical wildlife habitat sustaining some of the premier fishing and hunting opportunities in the West, the four signature landscapes protected by the CORE Act truly represent Colorado’s last best places. Passing this forward-thinking legislation will eventually be regarded among the most significant conservation milestones in our state’s history, and Colorado’s sportsmen and women look forward to celebrating that achievement.” – Scott Willoughby, Colorado Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Angler Conservation Program
“Gunnison County has worked for years on the Curecanti and Thompson Divide elements of the CORE Act. We have fought long and hard for the CORE Act because our constituents believe it these sensible public lands protections that are vital to our economy, our values and the enduring opportunity these lands will provide for future generations.” – Jonathan D. Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner
In 2019, Bennet and Neguse introduced the bicameral CORE Act in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives with the support of counties, cities, towns, local leaders, conservation groups, sportsmen, and a wide range of outdoor industry businesses. The CORE Act combines four Colorado public lands proposals that were developed over a decade and builds on longstanding efforts to protect public lands in Colorado by establishing new wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas, including the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale.
It quickly gained momentum in the House, with a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in April 2019, and later passed out of committee in June 2019. The CORE Act passed the full House of Representatives in October 2019 with bipartisan support. In July, the bill passed the House with bipartisan support for a second time in the House FY21 NDAA.
In August, Bennet and hunters and anglers from across the state highlighted victories in the CORE Act for outdoor enthusiasts in the Gunnison River Basin. Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation also released an analysis explaining exactly what the CORE Act secures for hunters and anglers across the state ––including miles of blue-ribbon trout stream and critical elk habitat––and reaffirmed their support for the public lands bill.
Bennet has sought every opportunity to pass the bill in the Senate. In addition to his efforts to include the CORE Act in the Senate’s FY21 NDAA, in June, Bennet introduced the CORE Act as an amendment to the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which also included long-standing Bennet priorities to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and invest in our public land management agencies. In February 2019, Bennet pushed to include the CORE Act in the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which permanently reauthorized LWCF and included new protections for millions of acres of public land in other states across the West.
CORE Act House and Senate Bill text, a fact sheet, frequently asked questions, maps, letters of support, and more are available at www.bennet.senate.gov/COREAct.
CORE Act B-roll and other media resources are available HERE.
The full text of Bennet’s written testimony, submitted for the Congressional Record, is available HERE and below.
Thank you Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin, and Subcommittee Chairman Lee and Ranking Member Wyden, for providing the opportunity to submit testimony for the record.
I started working on the various components of S. 241, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act over a decade ago, and I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve learned. In 2009, I joined former Senator Mark Udall in introducing the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. Around that time, I also started talking with local leaders, ranchers, and sportsmen about their interest in new protections for parts of the Thompson Divide. These proposals are now Title II and Title III of the CORE Act.
Shortly after, in 2011, at the request of Gunnison County, I began working on legislation to formally authorize the Curecanti National Recreation Area. And in 2015, I joined veterans and community leaders to find a way to protect public lands along the Continental Divide and protect, restore, and commemorate Camp Hale. These two proposals now represent Title IV and Title I of the CORE Act, respectively.
Over my decade of working on this bill, I’ve had the opportunity to visit and recreate in many of the places the CORE Act would protect. I’ve also had the chance to hear from Coloradans about why the public lands protected in the CORE Act are so important to them. In the last year – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and with record high visitation to our outdoors – a few stories really stand out.
Over the summer, in Telluride, Colorado, while hiking through the aspens above town, I heard how public lands drive the region’s outdoor recreation-based economy and how public lands have provided residents and visitors alike a refuge to keep their spirits high during the pandemic.
In August, I went to Gunnison where I met with members of Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Standing on the banks of the Gunnison River, I heard how the CORE Act would safeguard so many special places in Colorado – including miles of blue ribbon trout stream and thousands of acres of elk habitat. We also talked about how the CORE Act would finally expand public fishing access in the Upper Gunnison Basin.
In early September, I traveled to the west side of Colorado’s iconic Eisenhower Tunnel with Congressmen Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, to meet with county commissioners and veterans. There, we talked about the CORE Act’s protection of a critical migration corridor across I-70, and the importance of protecting Camp Hale’s landscape and history.
Each of these spots reminded me why we must pass the CORE Act.
I must emphasize that we are not at this point by chance. Rather, we are here because of the hard work of so many Coloradans, over the last decade, to hammer out compromise and find the best way forward. To identify shared values and, despite disagreements, to work together to find solutions. To broker compromises, adjusting boundaries, and modifying designations, until each of the four proposals reflected local interests. I am so grateful for their work. Coloradans have written this bill.
Each proposal, 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 Act, is a testament to our state’s collaborative spirit, hard work, and tireless dedication to our public lands. It is an example that Washington should follow.
In 2019, Coloradans started to combine their efforts, recognizing that each of the proposals complements the others, and that an integrated package could bring people from different walks of life together in common cause for the benefit of our state. I agreed, in part, because I felt like one region or one proposal should not be prioritized ahead of any other in Congress. That is why we combined these four proposals into a single bill, called the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act is a bold vision for our state’s public lands. Together, the bill protects over 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including new wilderness and recreation areas, and permanent protection for landscapes like the Thompson Divide, where Teddy Roosevelt went bear hunting in 1905, and Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division trained for mountain warfare prior to World War II.
The CORE Act would grow our economy by permanently securing and protecting opportunities for biking, hiking, skiing, grazing, hunting, and fishing in some of the most beautiful places in our state.
- Snowmobiling, skiing, and backcountry hiking at Camp Hale, the true birthplace of Colorado’s ski industry – and arguably the outdoor recreation industry itself;
- Backcountry skiing, camping, and hiking in the San Juan Mountains at Ice Lake Basin, near Silverton, and in Waterfall Canyon outside of Ophir;
- World-class mountain biking in thousands of acres near Breckenridge, including a portion of the Colorado Trail, and local trails in the Ophir Valley near Telluride, where this bill has the formal support of the San Miguel Bike Alliance;
- Nearly 7 miles of Gold Medal fishing, 100 miles of native cutthroat trout habitat, and 12 cutthroat trout lakes, according to a Trout Unlimited report, along with expanded public fishing access in the Upper Gunnison River Basin;
- Hunting in the Thompson Divide, and across our state, by protecting nearly 100,000 acres of important migration corridors for elk, mule deer, and other big game, including the only north-south wildlife migration corridor over I-70; and
- Conserving summer grazing lands for long-time Colorado ranchers.
It also addresses unique land management needs in Colorado by:
- Establishing a pilot program to lease and generate energy from methane leaking from coal mines, to support the North Fork Valley economy, improve air quality, and address climate change;
- Releasing around 3,000 acres of the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area (WSA), with the support of Mesa and Delta County, and portions of the existing McKenna Peak WSA in San Miguel County;
- Taking a balanced approach to new wilderness protections near Ouray, by working with Ouray Silver Mines, to allow for mining plans to proceed while protecting much of the area as wilderness, as requested by Ouray and San Miguel counties; and
- Protecting all existing water rights and ensuring that no existing roads or designated motorized trails are closed.
Finally, the bill includes a first-of-its-kind designation, the Camp Hale National Historic Landscape, which would honor Colorado’s military legacy at Camp Hale. In the 1940’s, American soldiers from all across the country were sent to Camp Hale, in the mountains outside of Leadville, to train to become the nation’s first military climbers and skiers. When these soldiers deployed to Italy, they led Allied forces to victory, including the Battle of Riva Ridge, where they surprised the Nazis by scaling a seemingly impossible mountain route. This was exactly the type of combat that the 10th Mountain Division prepared for in the mountains surrounding Camp Hale.
But the Camp Hale story doesn’t end with victory in World War II. After the war, many 10th Mountain Division veterans came back to Colorado to start ski resorts, ski patrols, and ski schools throughout the state and country. As we prepare for ski season in Colorado, we owe a debt of gratitude to the veterans who served and then came back to build the outdoor recreation industry that exists today.
Last February, I joined veterans from the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment at Camp Hale. The group had come to Camp Hale to celebrate the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division during the 75th anniversary of the 10th Mountain Division’s pivotal World War II battles. They told me that – after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – they still come back to the mountains of Colorado and to the birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division to find peace and solitude on our public lands. They reminded me that there’s a whole new generation of veterans who are returning to our public lands as a way of re-acclimating to civilian life.
For all of these reasons, the 10th Mountain Division is an indelible part of our history. In September, I heard a stirring account from Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman whose father served during World War II with the 10th Mountain Division and then returned to Colorado to join the ski industry. He implored us to finally get the CORE Act over the finish line. I also heard from Nancy Kramer, President of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, whose father also served in the 10th in Italy. Nancy and Greg told me that we owe it to the last few surviving World War II veterans to finally, formally protect Camp Hale before these veterans are gone.
The new Camp Hale National Historic Landscape designation would do just that. It will honor and permanently protect this unique landscape, a landscape that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. Rich with history and a source of peace and solitude for veterans. And a place that embodies so many of our values, our commitment to our veterans, and our commitment to protecting our public lands.
With such a diversity of locally developed, and decades-in-the-making, land management designations, protections, and safeguards, it is not surprising that the CORE Act enjoys support from across the State of Colorado. Most importantly, the CORE Act has the full support of 7 counties, 12 towns and cities, and the State of Colorado. Every county affected by the bill has approved the part of the bill in their county. A coalition of outdoor businesses and recreation user groups – including the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), and members of the Conservation Alliance – also support the CORE Act.
The bill has the support of countless conservation organizations such as The Wilderness Society and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which, speaking on behalf of five retired superintendents of Curecanti National Recreation Area, strongly support the formal establishment of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. As I mentioned, the support for the bill continues to grow to include new businesses and community leaders – such as New Belgium and 35 other Colorado craft breweries who expressed their support earlier this year.
Coloradans asked Congress to pass the CORE Act, and its components, for many years. Last year, the House finally acted on those wishes and passed the CORE Act with bipartisan support. Then, this summer, the CORE Act was included as part of the House’s Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, and passed the House for the second time.
I would like to recognize and thank my colleague, Representative Neguse – and all of the members of the Colorado delegation – for their leadership in passing the bill through the House.
Coloradans have waited too long for these proposals to become a reality. It is our time to act in the Senate. I look forward to working with Chairman Murkowski, Ranking Member Manchin, and the members of this Committee to do our job in the Senate, respect the wishes of Colorado, and pass the CORE Act into law.