The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, garnering bipartisan support.
The CORE Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., in January provides for the designation of certain wilderness areas, recreation areas and conservation areas in Colorado, according to the text of the bill. The legislation was passed with a vote of 227-182 and is the first Colorado-specific legislation to receive consideration on the House floor this year.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the companion bill in January and expressed support for the House passage, saying that Coloradans were heard “loud and clear.”
“For nearly a decade, county commissioners, businesses, bikers, hikers, sportsmen and conservationists in communities across our state spent night after night working together to iron out their differences to protect some of our most cherished public lands,” Bennet said in a news release. “What they had in mind was something special for the next generation of Coloradans. And today’s vote brings us closer to making their bold vision for our state a reality.”
The CORE Act protects about 400,000 acres of land in Colorado and unites four previously introduced public lands bills, including the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, which would protect about 52,000 acres. Of the land protected, 73,000 acres are new wilderness areas and close to 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas that preserve existing outdoor uses, like mountain biking and hiking.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis expressed support for the bill’s passage, along with counties across Colorado that are hopeful for support of the bill in the Senate.
“The heroism of the 10th Mountain Division and their contributions to the skiing world are memorialized in this act,” Kathy Chandler Henry, Eagle County commissioner, said in a statement. “The CORE Act also preserves important wildlife habitat and environment in Eagle and Summit counties. We are excited about this national commitment to our wild spaces and our heritage.”
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., was among the 182 members who voted against passage of the bill and told the Colorado Sun that he cannot support the bill in its current form, as he believes that “more conversation in terms of developing elements of the bill” is required.
“The CORE Act encompasses many of these aspects (priorities of Colorado), but in its current form, the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities, which the bill predominately impacts,” Tipton said in a news release.
Support from Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is uncertain, in that he has not actively released a statement for or against the CORE Act. He has instead pushed for Tipton’s Colorado Recreation Enhancement and Conservation Act that specifically focuses on the needs of the Western Slope.
Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, urged Gardner to support the Senate bill in a statement.
“We’ve been waiting 40 years to complete wilderness protection of Mount Sneffels and some of the most spectacular wildlands in the San Juan Mountains,” Pearson said. “We greatly appreciate Rep. Joe Neguse’s leadership, and we await Sen. Cory Gardner finally taking up the baton to move wilderness protections in the San Juans across the finish line in the Senate.”
Without Gardner’s support of the bill, passage in the Senate is unlikely, and Colorado outdoor and wilderness organizations are hoping that Gardner will stand with Bennet on the legislation.
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.