Vail, Avon not among pact of towns that support the CORE Act |

Vail, Avon not among pact of towns that support the CORE Act

Letter to armed services committees mentions 12 towns

Sen. Michael Bennet, alongside then-candidate Sen. John Hickenlooper, speaks with local officials and community members at the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act event held at the Fales Ranch south of Carbondale during summer 2020.
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On Tuesday, Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the leaders of Congress’ Armed Services Committees to include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act in the final Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

In a letter to committee Sens. Jack Reed and Jim Inhofe, along with Reps. Adam Smith and Mike Rodgers, the Colorado senators touted the CORE Act’s celebration of the U.S. Military by establishing the nation’s first National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale in Eagle County.

“This designation would ensure that future generations learn about the 10th Mountain Division’s storied history and experience the landscape where the famed ‘Soldiers on Skis’ trained before leading our nation to victory during World War II,” the letter states.

‘12 cities and towns’

The letter also touts the support the CORE Act has received in Colorado, mentioning the “seven counties, 12 cities and towns, the State of Colorado, and countless outdoor businesses, sportsmen, conservation, and recreation organizations” that have issued official support the CORE Act.

Eagle County is included in those seven counties, but none of the incorporated areas in Eagle County are among the 12 cities and towns cited in the letter. Those cities and towns are on file in a CORE ACT Letters of Support (LOS) Index on Bennet’s website, and include Basalt, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Carbondale, Dillon, Frisco, Glenwood Springs, Mountain Village, Ophir, Ridgeway, Snowmass Village and Telluride.

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Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said while she personally supports the CORE Act, she relied on Mountain Pact, a lobbying organization that works with local elected officials across the West, to express her support.

Mountain Pact Executive Director Anna Peterson said in 2020, Mountain Pact found support for the CORE Act in more than 100 elected officials in Colorado.

“Some folks from Avon did sign on,” Peterson said, including Hymes and council members Amy Cramer Phillips and Tamra Nottingham Underwood.

None of Vail’s elected officials signed the letter referenced by Peterson. Council member Kim Langmaid said she was not aware of the letter and would have signed it if she had known about it.

“Personally, I’m very supportive of wilderness and wilderness values,” Langmaid said.

Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said he was “a little surprised” to learn that “only 12 communities and towns” have issued official support of the CORE Act.

“The Camp Hale designation part is a no brainer IMO but some other complexities in the act may have contributed to hesitation on the part of policy makers,” Chapin said in an email.

Langmaid said the expansion of wilderness near Vail had the potential to interfere with some of the town’s goals regarding wildfire preparedness, citing the 2017 Vail Intermountain Fuels Project, a $1.1M helicopter logging project, as an example. Logging projects are not allowed in wilderness areas.

“The boundary is very close to town, and we’re just trying to really be responsible in terms of our wildfire planning,” Langmaid said.

Wildfire woes

While removing timber from an area that could burn in a wildfire seems like a logical way to prevent wildfire from reaching that area, it’s not always that simple.

“The biggest fires in the West this year were in heavily logged ‘managed’ forests,” said Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Dense, mature forests burn less intensely than those that have been logged because they have higher canopy cover and more shade, which creates a cooler, more moist forest.”

In an Oct. 6 editorial for the alliance, Garrity cited an opinion from Dr. Philip Higuera, associate professor of fire ecology at the University of Montana.

“Studies have shown logged areas and young forest plantation projects have little beneficial effect on wildfire spread and can actually aggravate fire growth in some cases,” Higuera said.

Langmaid said the details of wildfire mitigation efforts in the area in which the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Area seeks to expand in the CORE Act are still being worked out.

“It’s not necessarily going to be logging, and there’s a (National Environmental Policy Act) process that the forest service will be going through,” she said.

Vail resident Diana Donovan described the town’s failure to provide support of the CORE Act as “an absolute embarrassment.”

“The CORE Act surrounds Vail with protected open space, yet I don’t believe the Town Council supports it,“ Donovan said. “I have called multiple times asking have you supported the CORE Act yet, and I never heard a word from anybody.”

Defense debate

In addition to the Camp Hale protections, the CORE Act would expand the boundaries of protected wilderness areas surrounding Vail, including the Eagle’s Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas.

The CORE Act would also create a 16,966-acre designated area known as a “recreation management area” in the Tenmile Range that would protect access to mountain biking, hiking and hunting.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents Eagle and Summit counties in Congress, added an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act in September that would include the CORE Act.

Bennet and Hickenlooper then filed the CORE Act as an amendment to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

Neguse also co-signed the letter sent to the Armed Services Committees last week.

While Neguse said wilderness protection of headwater areas that 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.

“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.

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