Browning: A last best place worth preserving
I am writing on behalf of the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance, an all-volunteer nonprofit that works in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service to protect, preserve, and maintain the four federally designated Wilderness Areas in Eagle and Summit counties. In 2021, our members contributed over 7,000 volunteer hours to our local Wilderness areas.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act would protect 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands from development, much of it through Wilderness designation. The CORE Act is the result of more than a decade of collaborative efforts by Colorado’s environmental, recreation, hunting, business, and local governmental entities to craft a bill that is acceptable to that wide spectrum of interest holders. It represents compromises by all concerned to obtain a hard-fought and rarely obtained consensus on the management of public lands across Colorado.
We greatly appreciate the long efforts of Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Rep. Joe Neguse, and Gov. Jared Polis, to obtain passage of the CORE Act. Despite these best efforts, unfortunately, the CORE Act has been stymied by a Senate filibuster, even though it was passed five times by the House.
Consequently, ESWA strongly urges President Biden to achieve some of the goals of the CORE Act by using his administrative powers and the Antiquities Act to designate the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.
We trust that Biden and CORE Act champions in Congress will continue to push for the highest level of protection for all the remaining portions of the CORE Act, especially permanent protection for the lands that would receive congressional designation as Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.
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While we support the creation of the new National Monument as a first step, we urge the president to vigorously:
- Continue to support the passage of the full CORE Act.
- Press to include in the national monument boundaries all areas used by 10th Mountain troops for training that would become Wilderness under CORE, and protect them for future Wilderness designation, including the Megan Dickie addition to the Holy Cross Wilderness, Hoosier Ridge, and the Straight Creek addition to the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness. Although the Straight Creek addition is only 500 acres, it is critical to completing the essential wildlife land bridge over I-70 atop the Continental Divide.
- Encourage the Forest Service to give maximum protection in the pending Gunnison Uncompahgre Forest Management Plan and in the future White River National Forest plan to those areas that would become formal Wilderness Areas under the CORE Act, such as Spraddle Creek, and Ptarmigan additions.
- Make permanent the mineral withdrawal in the Thompson Divide.
These steps would strongly support the Biden Administration’s dedication to the goal under the America the Beautiful Act to safeguard 30% of our nation’s land and waters by 2030. The president needs to include maximum administrative protection to those lands set forth above until the CORE Act passes — especially the incredible and irreplaceable wilderness quality lands. We cannot leave those areas behind as they are “the last best places.”