President Joe Biden will designate Camp Hale as a national monument next week during a visit to Colorado that appears to be aimed at giving Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet a big boost in his November reelection bid.
The news was first reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times and confirmed to The Colorado Sun by a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicize the trip.
Camp Hale, near Leadville, is where 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained before heading to battle in World War II. Bennet began pushing for a national monument designation for Camp Hale in August because his Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, which would otherwise boost protections for the site, has been stalled in the Senate for years.
The measure has passed the House several times, but Bennet — who is running for reelection in November — has been unable to secure GOP support for the CORE Act to get it through the Senate.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Camp Hale in August to discuss with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Bennet, and Gov. Jared Polis the possibility of Biden taking executive action to protect the land. Vilsack signaled that he would encourage Biden to take executive action on the site.
Bennet recently spoke to Biden about designating Camp Hale a national monument. Bennet told The Sun on Saturday that he explained to the president the reason to act now is that 10th Mountain Division soldiers who trained there “are not getting any younger.”
Bennet has been reluctant to welcome Biden to Colorado to help him with his reelection bid. Back in August, Bennet said Biden “doesn’t need to come here.”
“I don’t need him to come here,” Bennet said. “I think we’re going to do just fine.”
It’s unclear where Biden will visit in Colorado. Details of his trip haven’t been made public by the White House, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Sun on Thursday.
Bennet’s office also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The LA Times reports Camp Hale will be the first entirely new monument Biden has designated, using the 1906 Antiquities Act, since taking office. Biden has expanded some existing monuments.
The national monument designation will prevent new drilling and mining at Camp Hale. Many of the soldiers who trained at the camp went on to form Colorado’s ski resorts.
Congress created the Antiquities Act in 1906, giving presidents broad powers to protect public lands. Since its inception, 17 presidents have used the act to designate 158 national monuments. The act has been challenged, often, as industry and state leaders questioned the breadth of designations, which the act limits to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and a handful of her Republican allies in the U.S. House sent a letter to Biden last month urging him not to take executive action to boost protections for public lands in Colorado that would otherwise be shielded under the CORE Act.
“We urge you not to usurp the Democratic process and allow the CORE Act to stand or fall on its own merits in the Congress of the United States,” the letter, shared first with The Unaffiliated, The Sun’s political newsletter, said.
The other Republican U.S. House members who signed onto Boebert’s letter included Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs; Ken Buck, of Windsor; Troy Nehls, of Texas; Andy Biggs, of Arizona; Louie Gohmert, of Texas; Russ Fulcher, of Idaho; Paul Gosar; of Arizona; and Byron Donalds, of Florida.
Bennet is running for reelection against Republican Joe O’Dea, a first-time candidate who opposes the CORE Act, which would grant additional protections to hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in Colorado, in its current form.
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“I know a lot of work has gone into the bill, and this is one where the final details can get worked out when there’s a willingness to try to sit down and work out disagreement,” O’Dea said in a written statement to The Sun, without explaining which parts of the measure he opposes.
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O’Dea compared the CORE Act to another public lands measure being pushed by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. DeGette has been pushing her legislation for years with no progress — and no or not enough Republican support.
“What has never worked is the Diana DeGette approach — where a politician from downtown Denver introduces a bill that steamrolls local ranchers and ignores local mountain bikers, sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts,” O’Dea said. “There is a reason that politicians like DeGette and Michael Bennet don’t get anything done. It’s always about partisanship.”
O’Dea, who is trailing Bennet in the polls and in fundraising, said in a written statement Thursday that Biden’s visit is a photo-op meant to distract from inflation and crime.
The CORE Act is also sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, and Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, who is also from Colorado. Polis, a former congressman, has been a longtime supporter of the legislation, too.
The group sent a letter to Biden on Aug. 25 asking him to take executive action to boost protections for Camp Hale.
“The history of this area, including the role that it played in preparing the 10th Mountain Division for some of the most difficult moments of World War II, makes it the ideal candidate for a national monument designation,” the letter said. “Many of the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division returned to Colorado
after the war to establish our state’s outdoor recreation economy by starting the ski areas that Colorado is known for, further establishing the role Camp Hale and its veterans have played for our state and nation.”
The push for a new national monument at Camp Hale would include protection of 28,676 acres around Camp Hale and another 17,122 acres in the Tenmile Range, which stretches east to Summit County.
It’s unclear whether Biden will grant national monument protections to other public lands that would be protected under the CORE Act.
The CORE Act would protect about 400,000 acres across the state, including acres surrounding Camp Hale, Curecanti National Recreation Area, the San Juan National Forest and the Thompson Divide.
The Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County along the Arkansas River was the last parcel of land designated a national monument in Colorado. President Barack Obama designated the 21,586-acre monument Feb.19, 2015.
The president last visited Colorado in January in the wake of the Marshall fire in Boulder County.
This is a developing story that will be updated.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jason Blevins contributed to this report. Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish also contributed to this report.