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Colorado public lands bill falters in Senate committee

CORE Act would protect more than 400,000 acres in the state
The Forest Service road leading to Dolores Canyon Overlook, on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, northwest of Cortez near Dove Creek on Aug. 30. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News file)

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee deadlocked along party lines on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy, or CORE Act, on Tuesday.

It means the bill will not get a recommendation from the committee, and would have to make it through a discharge vote to get to the floor for a vote, dimming the chances of Senate passage, but not ending it altogether.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, a member of the committee and a sponsor of the bill, stressed throughout the debate the community-driven nature of the bill, saying it could serve as a model for how public land should be crafted.

“The entire local community, a large part of the state of Colorado, supports these designations and recognize that this is the future and best use for these lands,” he said.

The CORE Act would protect more than 400,000 acres of land in the state through new wilderness, recreation and conservation areas in the Thompson Divide, Continental Divide, San Juan Mountains and Curecanti National Recreation Area.

It would also establish new protections for historic Camp Hale, where the storied Tenth Mountain Division trained during World War II.

Republicans on the committee objected to mineral and energy withdrawals found in the bill.


The bill is sponsored by Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, who has been working to pass the elements in the CORE Act for years. Bennet said that, if it eventually passes, it could be the “most significant public lands bill for Colorado in a quarter of a century.”

Bennet announced another example of the on-the-ground compromises that have shaped this bill – an agreement between the town of Crested Butte and a mining company, Freeport-McMoRan, for a land exchange. The deal would give the company access to land it wants, while adding about 19,000 acres more to the Thompson Divide portion of the bill. It is expected to be offered as an amendment to the bill during the committee markup.

“This is exactly the kind of local, carefully constructed agreement that you’ll find throughout the CORE Act,” Bennet said. “And it’s more evidence, I think, to our Senate colleagues that this bill wasn’t written in Washington. It was written in Colorado from the ground up to ensure that every line in this bill reflects local values and local interest.”

“It might be thin gruel to tell the people of Colorado that we need to keep working in this,” said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska before her no vote, “but I do think it’s important that we recognize we ask the communities, we ask the counties to weigh in, to help us work through ideas. And I think we need to respect the fact that they have continued to do that.”

Over a decade ago, rancher Bill Fales was one of many Coloradans who gathered and talked about how to protect the lands outside his backdoor. He said he was discouraged by the tie vote.

“That’s exactly what we have been doing for 13 years,” he said. “We’ve adjusted the boundaries, we’ve adjusted the language, we’ve worked as hard as possible to make to work for our community. It’s why it has virtually unanimous support in our community.”

But not all local officials support the bill. Western Slope Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, like her predecessor, has opposed the bill, describing it as “a partisan land grab.” Most of the land in the CORE Act falls in her district.

But an aide for Bennet said the senator will work with leadership and the committee to move the bill forward.

The CORE Act has passed the House a number of times. This is the furthest the bill has come in the Senate, something many supporters of the bill cautiously celebrated.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.