Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act: The bill that Could protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado

You can find more interactive mapping options here in the  GMUG National Forests Planning Revision  GIS database created by the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab.

You can find more interactive mapping options here in the GMUG National Forests Planning Revision GIS database created by the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act, H.R. 823 was recently introduced by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO-02). The CORE Act “protects approximately 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. 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” [1]

This legislative package was created by Coloradans though over a decade of collaborative effort and a rigorous process of compromise. As such, the bill has broad support from the outdoor recreation community, conservation groups and local businesses. For instance, the Access Fund has been involved in the vetting of the bills components over the past decade. The CORE Act also tactfully designates Wilderness while using other designations where more appropriate. Louis Geltman, Policy Director at the Outdoor Alliance points out the uniqueness of the strategy stating, “This approach is essential…” and, “should be considered a model for other protective designation efforts around the country.”

 The AAC strongly supports the protections embodied in the CORE Act. The Bill conserves outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, safeguards water resources, preserves key public lands and complements the values associated with our state lands. This legislation places a high value on recreation and conservation, and supports the $28.0 Billion outdoor recreation economy in Colorado and the 229,000 jobs associated with it. Coloradan’s largely agree too. According to the 9th annual Conservation in the West Poll, 73% of Coloradans say “the ability to live near, recreate on, and enjoy public lands like national forests, parks, or trails was a significant reason they live in the West.”[2] The proximity to amazing cragging, big alpine objectives and steep backcountry ski terrain was certainly a driving factor in my fiancé and I’s relocation to Colorado last October. Public lands are the infrastructure for Colorado outdoor recreation and are a critical component to the state’s economic well-being. The CORE Act will only enhance those recreational resources which Coloradan’s value.

Over the past year, the AAC advocated alongside our partners at the Outdoor Alliance, for the passage of the Public Lands Package, which was recently signed into law. Of the 2.5 million acres of public lands across the country that received lasting protections in that bill, only a few hundred acres were in Colorado. The CORE Act gives Congress a second chance to take care of those overlooked opportunities.


The CORE Act unites and improves four previously introduced bills:

1.     Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act

  • Designates 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation in the White River National Forest along the Colorado Continental Divide.

  • Designates the first ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale to preserve and promote the Army’s 10th mountain division’s legacy. 

2.     San Juan Wilderness Act

  • Provides protections for nearly 61,000 acres of land in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest, CO including Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak.

  • The bill designates 31,000 acres of Wilderness, 21,000+ acres of special management and 6,500+ acres of mineral withdrawal.

3.     Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act

  • Withdraws approximately 200,000 acres from future oil and gas development.

  • Creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines to address climate change.

4.     Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act

  • Establishes the boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

  • Improves coordination among land management agencies.


Climbing and Skiing resources that would be protected:

A preliminary analysis conducted by the Outdoor Alliance GIS lab has identified over 200 climbing routes spanning terrain from the crags at Camp Hale to alpine rock routes in the 10 Mile Range. In the San Juans, the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area conserves backcountry ski terrain near Lizard Head Pass while the “Liberty Bell and Whitehouse Wilderness additions protect world class hiking and climbing opportunities in the iconic Mt. Sneffels range.”[3] In the Continental Divide bill, the Tenmile Wilderness and Recreation Management Areas provide opportunities for long ridgeline technical traverses and challenging backcountry ski terrain. Check out the interactive website below to explore the crags and mountains that would be protected by this legislation:

Click on image above to access and interactive map prepared by the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab.  2017 .

Click on image above to access and interactive map prepared by the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab. 2017.


How We Can Help Move The CORE Act Forward:

1.     Cultivate Bipartisan Support for the Bill

While the CORE Act has received support from Colorado Democrats, opposition was expressed by some Republican members at a recent US House Natural Resources Committee hearing. Concern was raised that some Coloradans, “such as the Garfield County’s commissioners, who oppose the permanent withdrawal of oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale – were not being heard.”[4] A number of other groups raised opposition to the bill “due to limits it posed on certain recreational and work activities, such as motorized vehicle use.”[5] Because wilderness designations require an act of Congress to create, it is critical to build bi-partisan support for this legislation if it is to go anywhere. 

2.     Participate in the GMUG Forest Planning Process 

Chris French, Acting Deputy Chief of The US Forest Service provided testimony during the hearing and pointed out that the USFS supports the bill where it is consistent with the applicable Forest Plans and have broad based local support. This is a relatively expected response as the Forest Plan, which acts similarly to zoning for the forest, partially governs the decision making within the unit. So, where wilderness is proposed by the Forest Plan and aligns with the CORE Act designations, the Forest Service will support the proposal. This is an important reminder to participate in the GMUG Forest planning process and to let your local land managers hear your opinion about wilderness designations in Colorado.  The GMUG is currently being update and your opinion is needed!

Taylor Luneau
AAC, Policy Manager



A Closer Look At The CORE Act Designations:

National Historic Landscape: 28,700 acres

  • Camp Hale was the former base of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division and would receive the first national historic landscape designation in the country. The Camp was dedicated to training military climbers, skiers and mountaineers for combat during WWII and had a massive impact on shaping the climbing and skiing community. This designation would instruct the responsible agency to manage the area for its historical purposes including performing restoration and enhancement of its resources.

 Special Management Area: 50,200 acres

  • Special management areas are “federal public lands designated by Congress for a specific use or uses. Typically, special management legislation is contained in individual wilderness acts and directs the responsible agency to manage the area in accordance with the congressionally designated purposes. Included among the special management areas are backcountry areas, reserves, conservation areas, wildlife areas, fish management areas and national recreation areas.” [6]

 National Recreation Area: 43,000 acres

  • This designation generally includes areas that have outstanding combinations of outdoor recreation opportunities, aesthetic attractions, and proximity to potential users. While not as restrictive as wilderness, it is considerably less resource-exploitive than traditional multiple-use designations and requires the agency to manage the land to serve its recreational use.[7]

 Mineral Withdrawal: 206,600 acres

  • A mineral withdrawal refers to a statute, executive order, or administrative order that changes the designation of a parcel of federal land from “available” to “unavailable” for location, settlement, selection, filing, entry or disposal, under the mineral or non-mineral public-land laws.[8] This designation closes an area to new mining claims and requires existing claims to be demonstrated as valid before beginning mining activities.

 Wilderness: 73,000 acres

  • An area of Wilderness is defined as “an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habituation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions…”[9] This is the most stringent preservation mechanism on Federal public lands.


Citations:

[1] Geltman, Louis. Outdoor Alliance Testimony Re: Legislative hearing on H.R. 823, the “Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act.” April 2, 2019. Available here.

[2] Dutta, Deepan. “Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act gets day in Congress, supporters and opponents testify about act’s merits” Post Independent. April 6, 2019. Available here.

[3] Dutta, 2019.

[4] 8 Pub. Land L. Rev. 61 (1987)

[5] Coggins et. al. “Federal Public Land and Resources Law.” 7th edition. Foundation Press. 2014.

[6] Coggins et. al.

[7] The Wilderness Act. Pub.L. 88-577. 1964.

[8] CORE Act summary. Available here.

[9] State of the Rockies Project. “Conservation in the West Poll.” January 31, 2019.