WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday to approve legislation to preserve vast swaths of wilderness and recreation areas in Colorado.
Lawmakers voted 227-182, largely along party lines, to approve the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act put forward by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-2nd). The bill aims to preserve about 400,000 acres of public lands for wilderness and recreation in the state.
But the measure faces opposition from Colorado Republicans and an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate. President Donald Trump earlier this week threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Colorado’s congressional delegation is split on the vote. All four U.S. House Democrats from the state voted in favor of the bill and all three Republicans voted against it. Five Republicans from other states broke ranks with the GOP to support the bill.
“I’m proud to pass legislation on the House floor that was written by Coloradans to conserve the treasured public lands across our state. For decades, local leaders, ranchers, anglers, outdoor businesses and conservationists across our state have hammered out the designations to create the bill that we considered on the floor today,” Neguse said after the vote.
The bill would establish permanent protections in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide and in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. It would withdraw approximately 200,000 acres in the White River National Forest’s Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development and set a formal boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area along the Gunnison River.
The legislation also would designate the first-ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale, a winter warfare training ground between Red Cliff and Leadville that was used by the U.S. Army during World War II. The designation would mean recreational activities could continue, but resource extraction could not, the Associated Press reported.
The bill was opposed by Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, whose 3rd District would be impacted by the measure. He said that the bill’s authors — Neguse in the House and Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet in the Senate — hadn’t properly addressed concerns from impacted communities.
“In years past, the Colorado delegation has worked together in crafting public lands bills that balance the unique needs of our state including responsible energy resource development, increasing demand for outdoor recreation areas, and protecting forests and wildlife in delicate ecosystems,” Tipton said Thursday.
“The CORE Act encompasses many of these aspects, but in its current form the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities which the bill predominantly impacts.”
Neguse and Bennet have touted that the bill has broad local backing. “The CORE Act enjoys the full support of seven affected counties, many cities and towns, local leaders, and a wide range of stakeholders,” Bennet said in a statement after the vote.
The Colorado senator said he’ll continue to press the issue in the upper chamber of Congress. “Now that the House has done its job, it’s time for the Senate to take up the CORE Act. Colorado has waited long enough.”
“This is an incredibly important bill,” Bennet told reporters during a call after the vote, “not just to preserve the public lands for the next generation but also for the economy of Colorado.”
Bennet has asked the leaders of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to hold a hearing on the bill, but they have yet to do so. Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who sits on that committee, is not a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation.
The Trump administration said in its veto threat that rural communities have raised concerns that the land-use restrictions in the bill “would have negative effects on local economies.” The White House did note, however, that “it is willing to work with the Congress to improve it if the bill is considered further.”
Bennet, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was “shocked” by Trump’s veto threat and called it “completely inexplicable.” But, “we’re not going to let that dissuade us,” he said. “We’re going to get it through the Senate.”
Should the bill make it to Trump’s desk, Bennet added, “I hope he’ll reconsider his views.”