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Bennet, Hickenlooper Public Lands Bills Pass Senate Committee With Bipartisan Support

December 14, 2023

Media Contact

Rachel Skaar (Bennet) — 202-594-6252 Kaitlin Hooker (Hickenlooper) — 202-570-2944

Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, celebrated the Committee’s passage of their Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act and Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act. This is the first time the bills have passed the Senate Committee with bipartisan support.

“Colorado’s public lands fuel more than our economy – they are the lifeblood for our communities and a cornerstone of our Western way of life,” said Bennet. “Coloradans of all stripes crafted these bills at trailheads, in town halls, and at kitchen tables to find the best way forward to protect iconic places like the Dolores River and the San Juan Mountains. Today’s bipartisan votes were an important step forward, and I’ll keep working to get these bills to President Biden’s desk.”

“These bills were crafted the Colorado way: through bipartisan collaboration and a common desire to protect Colorado public lands and waterways,” said Hickenlooper. “It’s time to get them across the finish line on the Senate floor. Giddy up!”

“I am thrilled that the CORE Act passed through the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with bipartisan support. Countless Coloradans have contributed their voices to the creation of this bill, and it is far past time for Washington to take notice,” said U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). 

The CORE Act, which passed the committee on a bipartisan roll call vote, would protect approximately 420,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establish new wilderness, special management areas and wildlife conservation areas, and safeguard existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations. The CORE Act combines four previously introduced bills to protect iconic Colorado landscapes in nine Colorado counties. Last year, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument and the proposed Thompson Divide administrative withdrawal. Both of these efforts originated with the CORE Act, which was first introduced in 2019. Neguse has championed the CORE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, passing the bill through that chamber five times. The Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act, which passed the Committee on a bipartisan voice vote, would protect over 68,000 acres of public lands in three Colorado counties of Montezuma, Dolores, and San Miguel.

For over a decade, Bennet has brought together Tribal communities, county commissioners from across the political spectrum, businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, and conservationists in support of both bills to protect approximately 488,000 acres of public lands in Colorado. Hickenlooper has championed both bills as a member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In July, Bennet and Hickenlooper testified in support of both bills before the Committee. In June, Bennet joined county commissioners, Tribal members, conservationists, ranchers, small business owners, and recreationists on a three-day trip on the Dolores River to underscore the importance of protecting the River.

Support for the CORE Act: 

“Gunnison County has worked for years on the Curecanti and Thompson Divide elements of the CORE Act. We have fought long and hard for the CORE Act because our constituents believe in these sensible public lands protections that are vital to our economy, our values and the enduring opportunity these lands will provide for future generations,” said Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner. “For many years, we have worked with diverse stakeholders to develop sensible landscape scale protective measures that match the values of our communities and our desire to see these productive and pristine landscapes thoughtfully protected. Advancing this bill forward through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is a significant milestone for this bill and we are thankful to Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper and Congressman Neguse for their leadership and persistence on the CORE Act.”

“Now, more than ever, it’s time for the Senate to pass the CORE Act. We applaud the CORE Act for balancing the needs of wildlife and watershed protections with recreational and other uses of the forest,” said Kathy Chandler Henry, Eagle County Commissioner. “This collaborative legislative process has involved our water providers, conservation groups, recreational groups, and businesses. This important bill strengthens Colorado’s recreation economy and is supported by stakeholders throughout the state. We are thrilled with the designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in 2022; this important piece of our history is now preserved for all to enjoy. Eagle County thanks Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper for their stewardship of public lands; our grandchildren will be grateful for these treasured additions in Western Colorado.”

“This visionary legislation shows a shared commitment to public lands,” said Tamara Pogue, Summit County Commissioner. “We are honored to join Senator Bennet, Senator Hickenlooper, Congressman Neguse, and our Governor in championing permanent protections for wilderness and wildlife conservation areas.”

“Local residents and businesses have advocated for the special management designations they designed and requested for over 15 years. Enacting the CORE Act guarantees these iconic wild lands and ecosystems will be protected so future generations can experience them the way we do,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray County Commissioner. “The urgency for balancing recreation, forest, and watershed health has never been greater. The 13,000 acres within the Whitehouse Addition to the Sneffels Wilderness in Ouray County cannot withstand pressure from development and climate change any longer.”

Support for the Dolores River bill: 

“The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe fully supports the NCA legislation. The large gathering by the Dolores River last summer, during a boat trip with Senate staffs, Senator Bennet, Conservation Representatives, State, Federal, Tribal and local officials reflected the broad bi-partisan support for the NCA resulting from 10 years of collaborative negotiations. From the Tribe’s perspective, the Legislation protects our allocations from the Dolores Project, which provides us with water for drinking, economic development and our 7,600-acre farm.  The Bill also supports the stewardship of the Dolores River, including protection of our cultural resources and practices. The legislation reconciles the obligations of Reclamation to meet water supply obligations, with BLM and USFS responsibilities to protect the natural ecology along the River. It includes the Tribe on the Resource Advisory Council that will develop a Management Plan for the NCA.  Our water supplies are critical to the future of the Tribe, and protection of the River is consistent with our deeply held value that “Water is Life” for all beings. The NCA legislation supports both,” said Manuel Heart, Chairman Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“San Miguel County strongly supports the designation of the Dolores River Canyon as a National Conservation Area (NCA). The NCA balances the protection of historic uses, private property rights, water rights, and the Dolores Project/McPhee Reservoir and its allocations while preserving conservation, recreation, and scientific resources. This legislation represents the culmination of a decade of regionalcollaboration between local and tribal governments, water users, agricultural and industrial interests, conservation groups, and recreationists. The bi-partisan vote in support of the Dolores River NCA in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee illustrates that the federal government can come together when presented with a locally crafted, grassroots proposal that includes the voices of all stakeholders. We thank Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper for their leadership on the Dolores River and their tireless work to move this bill forward in the Senate,” said Lance Waring, Chair, San Miguel County Commission.

“Montezuma County, along with our neighboring counties, agricultural and water interests, spent a decade and a half crafting a finely balanced plan to protect the Dolores River Canyon while protecting water rights and existing uses.  Our efforts have been bipartisan, diligent, and transparent – Senator Bennet has honored this work in his pending legislation, and the Senate should recognize these careful deliberations and pass the bill as soon as possible,” said Gerald Koppenhafer, Montezuma County Commissioner.

“From the beginning of our discussions, we all agreed that these lands belong to everyone. they need to be used respectfully, but they also need to be available to all uses,” said Steve Garchar, Dolores County Commissioner. “We’ve worked hard to achieve that, and it’s time for the Senate to honor this decade-plus effort and pass the bill.”

“The passage out of committee is an exciting milestone for the Dolores River NCA bill after so many years of hard work and collaboration at the local level. This bipartisan bill represents the wisdom of southwest Colorado’s diverse interests and would protect the southern portion of Dolores River canyon country. We appreciate the commitment of Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper to protecting these important cultural, natural, and recreational resources for generations to come,” said Amber Clark, Chair, Dolores Legislative Subcommittee, and Executive Director, Dolores River Boating Advocates.

More information about the CORE Act is available HERE. More information about the Dolores River bill is available HERE.