Michael Bennet U.S. Senator for ColoradoMenu
Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse's Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act protects over 400,000 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 73,000 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 includes a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale to honor Colorado’s military legacy and 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, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act establishes permanent protections for nearly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide. It also designates the first-ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale to preserve and promote the 10th Mountain Division’s storied legacy. In crafting the bill, Senator Bennet and then-Congressman Jared Polis collaborated with community leaders, veterans, and businesses in Eagle, Summit, and Grand Counties.
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.
The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act protects the Thompson Divide—one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes—by withdrawing over 200,000 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. 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.
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.
No. Of the roughly 400,000 acres in the CORE Act, over half of it 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 73,000 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 CORE Act does not prohibit or in any way limit motorized use at Camp Hale. Instead, the bill specifically directs the Forest Service to manage the area for road and trail-based recreation, including snowmobiling, as part of the future management of the area. The Forest Service would continue to have the discretion to decide what roads and trails are open to motorized and non-motorized use.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
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