House adopts wilderness legislation under annual defense bill

  • Originally published by the Telluride Daily Planet and written by Sophie Stuber

Summer is in full swing in Colorado. As the snow melts from high alpine slopes and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, wilderness areas and open space prove to be even more valuable. At a national level, Congress moved one step closer to enshrining more of the West’s natural landscapes as permanent designated wilderness.

On July 21, the House approved two big pieces of wilderness legislation in amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021, which budgets annual defense spending. Wilderness protection in Colorado has a history of success when included in the national defense budget.

“It’s not unprecedented for wilderness bills to be included in the National Defense Act,” explained Robyn Cascade, who represents the local chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national nonprofit dedicated to wilderness protection and preservation.

Senator Michael Bennet was able to work with Republican Representative Scott Tipton to include the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act as an amendment in the NDAA for 2015 fiscal year. Hermosa Creek protections include over 100,000 acres of land in southwest Colorado.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act was adopted as an amendment to the defense bill. In October 2019, the CORE Act previously passed the House of Representatives as an independent piece of legislation.

Sponsored by U.S. Representative Joe Neguse, the CORE act would protect more than 400,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado. Locally, the legislation would complete the protection of the Sneffels Wilderness Area between Telluride and Ouray.

Notably, CORE Act would stop future leasing for oil and gas drilling on the Thompson Divide. In tribute to the 10th Mountain Army Division, the bill would also designate Camp Hale as the first-ever National Historic Landscape.

“It’s significant that the first ever historic landmark, Camp Hale, which is a military training site, is within the Defense Authorization bill,” said Cascade.

In the Senate, Bennet is now working to include a CORE Act amendment in their version of the NDAA

“Now, it’s up to the Senate to deliver, and the inclusion of the CORE Act in the NDAA provides a real opportunity to see this across the finish line,” Bennet said in a statement after the House passed the defense spending bill.

Although it has now passed the House in two different iterations, the CORE Act has struggled in the Senate, largely due to a lack of partisan support for the wilderness bill. Thus far, Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner has refused to endorse the CORE Act.

“Still the Senate has not taken the legislation up or brought it to committee for consideration,” Neguse in a statement.

“The CORE Act was carefully crafted by Coloradans over the last decade, and they deserve to see this bill,” he added.

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