CORE Act again in home stretch, but path to finish line getting blurry
Wilderness expansion is part of National Defense Authorization Act, currently being debated in the US Senate
Wilderness advocates don’t often find themselves following every move of the annual Congressional effort to authorize defense spending in the U.S., but this year, the two issues are closely linked.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, whose congressional district includes the nearby Holy Cross and the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness areas, in September added an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would include the CORE Act, an effort that would expand the protected wilderness area boundaries of the Eagle’s Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas.
Neguse is chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
The CORE Act would also create a 16,966-acre designated area known as a “recreation management area” in the Tenmile Range which would protect access to mountain biking, hiking and hunting.
While Neguse says wilderness protection of headwater areas which provide clean water to reservoirs is part of a true national defense strategy, the creative new designation known as the National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale is what makes the amendment a good fit for the National Defense Authorization Act.
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“It was in the mountains of Colorado that American soldiers received the training that allowed them to defeat Germans in the Northern Italian Alps and lead our nation to victory during World War II,” Neguse said in reference to Camp Hale in southern Eagle County.
Hut trips discussed in Congress
If the National Defense Authorization Act passes with the CORE Act attached, it will secure the historic preservation of 28,728 acres surrounding Camp Hale, and existing recreational opportunities like the overnight huts in the nearby 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
“Hut visitors share the special spirit of the 10th Mountain Division in their pursuit of excellence, self-reliance and love of the outdoors, and my constituents in Summit County and in Eagle County and across the Colorado have been imploring the United States Congress to take steps to make these protections a reality literally for years,” Neguse said.
The National Defense Authorization Act has passed Congress every year for 60 years, but the bill won’t likely see a swift passage in 2021 as a cloture vote, which would have sent the bill to the floor for debate, failed to pass this week.
Defense News, which covers U.S. military operations, reported Tuesday that the Senate was on track to vote again to advance the bill.
“There are multiple paths to the finish line, and we are working on the NDAA and are optimistic about the options,” an aide familiar with the deliberations told DefenseNews.com.
Neguse also saw to the addition of the CORE Act to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, but it was stripped from the act in December 2020.
With President Joe Biden newly elected at the time, along with Colorado’s John Hickenlooper in the U.S. Senate, wilderness advocates saw hope for the CORE Act’s passage in 2021.
Biden’s office issued a statement in favor of the CORE Act in February.
“The legislation contains provisions that protect important public lands, including public lands in Colorado, through community-supported land use designations that limit inappropriate development and maintain recreational access,” according to the statement. “It designates Camp Hale as the Nation’s first National Historic Landscape to honor World War II veterans and Colorado’s military legacy.”
On Monday, local wilderness advocacy group the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance urged locals to reach out to members of Congress in early December to encourage Congress to leave the CORE Act in the National Defense Authorization Act in 2021.
“ESWA insiders say now is when senators need encouragement to do everything possible to ensure CORE isn’t stripped out of the NDAA,” the alliance said Monday.