Colo. Leaders Call On Biden To Protect Public Lands Via Drilling Ban, New Monument

The president is under increased pressure to make good on a campaign promise to preserve ecologically important landscapes.

Democratic leaders from Colorado are urging President Joe Biden to use his executive powers to do what a divided Senate has not: protect hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in the Centennial State.

In a letter to Biden this week, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Rep. Joe Neguse, and Gov. Jared Polis acknowledged existing roadblocks to passing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act and asked the president to step in.

Introduced in 2019, the CORE Act combines four previous public lands bills and aims to protect approximately 400,000 acres in the state. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the bill multiple times, but it has failed to advance through a divided Senate.

“Regrettably, progress in Congress has stalled despite strong support in Colorado,” the lawmakers’ letter said. “The time has come to take the next step in protecting the key landscapes within the CORE Act and we need your help.”

The Colorado leaders specifically requested that Biden use the century-old Antiquities Act to establish a new national monument to safeguard Camp Hale — a World War II Army training facility near Leadville — as well as Tenmile Range, a skiing and hiking mecca that runs north to south between the resort towns of Breckenridge and Copper Mountain.

Tenmile Range is pictured in central Colorado.
Tenmile Range is pictured in central Colorado.
Adventure_Photo via Getty Images

The group also urged Biden to protect the Thompson Divide, a 200,000-acre swath of the White River National Forest, via a “mineral withdrawal” — a measure to ban all new drilling and mining activity — and to use executive tools to better conserve portions of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

The letter comes a little over a week after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack toured Camp Hale and signaled his support for the CORE Act’s many provisions.

“I think it really is a model of what we should be doing in this country,” Vilsack said during his visit. “I’m gonna go back and make sure that the president and the White House are fully briefed on this and make sure that our team is moving as expeditiously as we possibly can to do whatever we can.”

In their letter, dated Thursday, the Colorado Democrats thanked Vilsack for his visit and stressed that Biden has an opportunity to preserve Colorado lands for future generations.

“We will continue our fight to pass the CORE Act to deliver permanent conservation for the areas featured in the legislation but ask for your help in the interim to offer administrative protections modeled after the bill,” they wrote.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are pictured at Camp Hale in Colorado on Aug. 16.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are pictured at Camp Hale in Colorado on Aug. 16.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP

Nearly two years into his presidency, Biden is under increasing pressure to establish new protected sites and preserve ecologically important landscapes — something he promised to do on the campaign trail.

In an April report, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, an organization of current and former National Park Service employees, identified six “national treasures in need of protection” and lobbied Biden to use his powers under the Antiquities Act.

And in June, a coalition of 92 national and local organizations called on the president to establish a new monument at Castner Range, a former military weapon testing area spanning 7,000 acres in west Texas that is home to archaeological sites and a diversity of at-risk wildlife.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Biden has recognized the popularity and importance of protected sites. When he finally put pen to paper in October to restore three national monuments that his predecessor dismantled, Biden said doing so “may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as president.”

“I mean it,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “I mean it.”

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