Two western Colorado public-land conservation measures scored firsts on Thursday by each clearing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources with bipartisan support.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act cleared the committee by a 11-8 roll call vote, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joining Democrats in approving it. The Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act was approved by a bipartisan voice vote.
CORE would protect about 420,000 acres of public land as new wilderness, special management areas or wildlife conservation areas, combining four previous bills. The Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act would protect more than 68,000 acres of public lands in Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties.
CORE includes provisions that would:
– withdraw the federal mineral estate for more than 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area south of Glenwood Springs and stretching to Crested Butte, barring things such as new oil and gas leasing.
– provide new protections for nearly 61,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains, including wilderness designations for land on two 14,000-foot peaks, Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak.
– permanently protect nearly 53,000 acres of land in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide.
– formally establish the boundary of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, improving the ability of the National Park Service to manage that area.
The bill has been modified after some of what it sought to do was accomplished when President Biden last year designated the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, highlighting an area where 10th Mountain Division ski troops trained for World War II.
The Biden administration also is pursuing an administrative mineral withdrawal in the Thompson Divide area, but that proposal would cover 20 years, whereas the withdrawal in the CORE bill would be permanent.
The CORE bill has passed the House multiple times in years past, but the furthest it previously has gotten in the Senate was an 11-11 vote in 2022 by the same committee, after some Republican committee members voiced concerns about the impacts on energy development from making lands off limits to further oil and gas leasing.
The House of Representatives is currently controlled by Republicans, and the CORE bill is opposed by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, whose district includes much of the acreage affected by the bill and who also objects to the limits it would place on future energy development.
The CORE bill is being pushed by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both D-Colo., and by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette. The Dolores River bill has bipartisan support from Colorado’s congressional delegation, with Boebert agreeing to introduce companion House bill to the Senate version introduced by Bennet and Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper said of the Dolores River measure during Thursday’s committee meeting, “It took 15 years of stakeholder collaboration to strike the balance of conservation and historic uses that is captured in the broadly supported agreement that is before us today.”
Bennet said in a news release about Thursday’s votes, “Coloradans of all stripes crafted these bills at trailheads, in town halls, and at kitchen tables to find the best way forward to protect iconic places like the Dolores River and the San Juan Mountains. (The) bipartisan votes were an important step forward, and I’ll keep working to get these bills to President Biden’s desk.”
Some conservationists have called for Dolores River corridor protections to be further broadened through a national monument designation that would include lands in Mesa and Montrose counties.