Sen. Michael Bennet is sure his new Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act could be a national model not only for preserving public lands, but for the collaborative process that went into creating it.
Noting that “partisan disease” has corroded national politics, Bennet on Friday said his CORE Act legislation — which would protect more than 400,000 acres of public land across Colorado — said the nearly decade-long process behind the legislation “is a good model” for getting back to more functional government.
“This bill was not written in Washington D.C.,” Bennet said Friday during a public meeting with outdoor recreation and conservation leaders in Denver for the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. “This bill was written night after night after night in rooms and county commission buildings all over the state of Colorado, as neighbors sat together to iron out their differences and do something special for the next generation of Colorado.”
Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, joined forces this week to announce the CORE legislation, which merges four previously introduced public-lands bills, some of which have been proposed annually for more than a decade.
The act creates 73,000 acres of new wilderness in Colorado, 80,000 acres of new recreation and conservation management areas, removes more than 200,000 acres from oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide region and includes a program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in coal mines in the North Fork Valley.
“It has required compromise and it’s required people with disagreements to sit across the table and work out those disagreements. It’s required patience and it’s required people to be diligent and it’s required people to remember the legacy we are trying to fulfill that we want to pass down to our kids and to our grandkids,” Bennet said.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, has proposed legislation every year for nearly 20 years that would protect more than 740,000 acres across the state as wilderness. Bennet’s CORE plan allows for many areas to maintain existing uses with less restrictive designations than wilderness.
Bill considers protection and existing uses
Amy Roberts, the head of the Outdoor Industry Association said the proposal supports the economic engine of recreation, which spurs $28 billion in consumer spending in Colorado and employs 129,000 workers.
“We like this title because it has both outdoor recreation and economy in the title,” Roberts said. “This bill actually sets aside and recognizes existing uses so it really is well put together and it drives the message that you can preserve public lands and drive economies in rural areas at the same time.”
Bennet’s unveiling of his CORE Act on Friday followed Colorado College’s State of the Rockies annual Conservation in the West Poll, which showed voters in eight states across the West increasingly supportive of public lands, the outdoor recreation economy and legislation reversing the impacts of climate change.
The poll showed 69 percent of Colorado residents consider themselves to be conservationists and 73 percent call themselves outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Researchers also reported that 90 percent of Colorado residents consider the outdoor recreation economy important to the future of the state.
The poll showed growing concern over the impacts of climate change. In Colorado, 77 percent of those polled said climate change was a serious problem, the highest percentage of any Western state in the poll and a 14 percentage point increase over the poll’s results in 2016.
On Wednesday at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, three of the outdoor industry’s largest trade groups — the National Ski Areas Association, SnowSports Industries America and the Outdoor Industry Association — united to form the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership. The first-of-its-kind collaboration will not only encourage sustainable practices to reduce carbon emissions, but will lobby for climate policies and renewable energy at federal and state levels.
While the gridlock in Washington is troubling, Bennet said in an interview with The Colorado Sun that he is optimistic that businesses will drive policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.
“Washington can’t stop innovation from happening,” he said. “That is policy innovation at the local level and it’s also business innovation and innovation in retrofitting our built environment and our houses. There is a huge opportunity here and people are going to seize it. My problem with Washington is that if we are not careful we are going to lose our leadership to the rest of the world and that would be a shame because the folks who have a very established position and own the clean energy economy in the 21st century are going to the the ones that lead the world.”
Scott Braden with Conservation Colorado said decades of evolving conservation work in Colorado has yielded legislation like the CORE Act, which protects public lands while working with residents who rely on those lands for their livelihoods and recreation.
“We had to get innovative on conservation in the last 20 years and it’s allowed us to … really be able to fine tune the conservation and balance it with recreation,” Braden said. “Really, the difference with this bill is the incredible on-the-ground support you see for the CORE Act. That local support is why we are bullish on its chances in Congress.”
Still, the legislation has an uphill battle to get through the Republican-controlled Senate and win the signature of President Donald Trump, who reduced the size of Utah’s Bear Ears National Monument in 2017, signaling the administration’s tepid appreciation for public lands.
Bennet said winning support from Republican Sen. Cory Gardner would be helpful in getting CORE to pass in the Senate. Bennet said Gardner and his staff were studying the proposal.
“There is a lot of support out there and I think anything you can do to make sure he understands that would be helpful,” Bennet said. “I think a bipartisan lands package is something the president would want to sign.”
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