The Denver Post’s editorial board
America is finally on the right trajectory when it comes to adding, protecting, and utilizing our public lands. In 2019 an epic lands deal was signed into law by President Donald Trump with bipartisan support that added protections to 1.3 million acres of land, preserving it from any type of development even roads. The package also permanently dedicated billions of dollars to the acquisition of new lands. We must stay the course. Fortunately, in Congress right now, three initiatives are converging that could potentially have a greater combined impact on Colorado’s public lands: the CORE Act, the 30 by 30 plan, and the Civilian Climate Corps.
Notably, the last major lands package deal did not include any more protections or additions to public lands in Colorado, a shocking oversight given that the CORE Act has been hammered out in Congress for years and faces virtually no well-articulated opposition in this state.
Now, more than ever, Colorado must embrace, protect and expand its conservation, stewardship, and recreation opportunities. The state has shown it is ready and willing to do its part in protecting outdoor spaces for generations to come. Amid competing needs for state resources, Gov. Jared Polis stepped up to create a new state park in Southern Colorado at Fischers Peak.
But Colorado cannot do it alone. Only the federal government has the resources to continue acquiring and protecting land. This should be the year that we add enhanced protection to more than 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado by passing the CORE Act into law. The legislation would create the first-ever National Historic Landscape to preserve the legacy of Camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division that trained there. Of the land involved, about 73,000 acres would be given the highest protections under federal law, wilderness designation.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse are spearheading the effort, and notably, Colorado’s new Sen. John Hickenlooper has signed onto the CORE Act, supporting the state’s most important lands bill. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow all have long supported the legislation too. The CORE Act is all about, taking special places in Colorado already owned by the federal government and adding needed protections. Remarkably, through extensive stakeholder processes, no existing uses — bike trails, snowmobile or ATV routes, ranching or even water rights — would be removed via the act.
The CORE Act is part of a larger vision for America — one promoted by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico — the idea of preserving 30% of America’s undeveloped land by 2030. The 30 by 30 plan is the kind of ambitious vision we need if we are going to leave America in better shape for the next generation than we found it.
There are downsides to putting more acres in the hands of an already overstretched federal government, but the positives of conservation far outweigh those concerns. That’s why it’s important to also support the vision of a Civilian Climate Corps that President Joe Biden has mentioned as an element of his proposed infrastructure plan. The vision, introduced by Neguse and Bennet, is to employ Americans working on public lands on conservation projects. It would expand the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps funded by a 2019 Bennet bill. Such a program could push America’s public lands to serve their highest and best uses whether that is as wildlife habitat, carbon sinks, outdoor recreation epicenters or simply as grand to be viewed for generations to come.
Members of The Denver Post’s editorial board are Megan Schrader, editor of the editorial pages; Lee Ann Colacioppo, editor; Justin Mock, CFO; Bill Reynolds, general manager/ senior vp circulation and production; Bob Kinney, vice president of information technology; and TJ Hutchinson, systems editor.