Four-Piece Public Lands Bill Enhances Access, Fuels Economy and Advances Colorado’s Sporting Heritage for Future Generations
Washington, DC — Following the announcement of four public lands bills to be introduced next week by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet in the U.S. Senate and Rep. Joe Neguse (CO-2) in the House, Trout Unlimited is urging support for passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act of 2019.
The four-piece package of bills includes the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act, Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act, and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act. Collectively known as the CORE Act, the proposed legislation would protect critical cold water streams, enhance high-value habitat for several species and increase public access for anglers in some of Colorado’s premier fisheries.
“For years, Trout Unlimited has fought to protect these important public lands on behalf of Colorado’s sportsmen and women, so we are very excited to see Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse introduce legislation that shares our commitment to honoring the values of hunters and anglers,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “From the prime big game habitat and unique native cutthroat trout fisheries of the Thompson Divide to the pristine headwaters of the San Juan Mountains, the four bills that comprise the CORE Act will go a long way toward advancing Colorado’s sporting heritage and fueling our outdoor recreation economy.”
TU has been a leading voice among sportsmen fighting for protection of the Thompson Divide for more than a decade. The 172,000-acre backcountry expanse in the White River and Gunnison National Forests south of Carbondale is recognized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as high value habitat for deer, elk, moose, bears and lynx and provides clean water to more than 15 watersheds in the state. Bolstered by the support of a broad-based community coalition, federal legislation is the final remaining step to achieving long-term protections from inappropriate energy development in the region.
“I’m a rancher who has relied for generations on summer grazing permits on Thompson Divide,” said Bill Fales of Carbondale. “Protecting these public lands is critical not only to me and the other ranchers, but to the entire community here. Recreation and hunting are vitally important to our local economy. There are just some areas where the costs to the community outweigh any potential benefit of drilling, and Thompson Divide is surely one of those places.”
Likewise, TU has rallied alongside local communities and stakeholders seeking Wilderness protection of nearly 60,000 acres in the heart of the San Juan Mountains since legislation was first introduced by Congressman John Salazar in 2009. The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act to be reintroduced by Sen. Bennet next week protects important wildlife habitats and linkage corridors while providing benefits to some 547 miles of surrounding rivers.
“The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill would protect the headwaters of the San Miguel, Uncompahgre, and Animas rivers. These watersheds secure drinking water for communities, provide recreation opportunities, and are home to some of the best fishing in the state,” said David Dragoo, president of Montrose-based Mayfly Outdoors. “The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act would protect these special places and the benefits they provide, immediately and for future generations.”
Sen. Bennet broadened the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act originally proposed by Colorado Congressman-turned-Governor Jared Polis with his now three-year push to designate the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, where the storied 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II. The bill creates three new Wilderness areas in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains, and expands existing Wilderness designations at Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross.
“This bill speaks to the very heart of Colorado,” said Scott Willoughby, TU’s Eagle-based public lands coordinator. “Camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division are woven into the DNA of Colorado’s outdoor recreation soul — not only skiing, but fishing the headwaters of the Eagle and Arkansas rivers, big game hunting in the surrounding mountains, and all the other activities and benefits that have emerged from the outdoor legacy launched on the public lands comprising this historic landscape.”
The final piece of the package is the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act. The bill would place management of the 50,667-acre Curecanti National Recreation Area established in 1965 around Gunnison County’s Blue Mesa Reservoir under the sole direction of the National Park Service, with the potential to significantly increase public access to one of Colorado’s premier fisheries.
In addition to establishing legal boundaries for the Curecanti NRA, the legislation would remove the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as co-manager of the recreation area and enforce an existing obligation to acquire 26 miles of class 1 public fishing easements to provide sportsmen access for fishing within the Upper Gunnison Basin upstream of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
“Angling on the Gunnison River and it’s many tributaries upstream of the Aspinall Unit is an economic driver for the towns of Gunnison, Crested Butte, Lake City, and Almont,” said Jesse Kruthaupt, Upper Gunnison Project Specialist for TU. “This iconic river developed its reputation from sportsmen who stepped off the Denver Rio Grande at fishing resorts now under Blue Mesa Reservoir. Today, anglers compete for trout and waters in numbers that were unimaginable 50 years ago. Acquiring access easements to stream reaches in the Upper Gunnison will provide potential revenue for private property owners and help disperse anglers from high traffic areas allowing for balanced and long-lasting use of the resource.”
Trout Unlimited applauds Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse for introduction of the CORE Act and encourages the continued support from all Colorado sportsmen and public land users to ensure the legislation passes in 2019.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, Insta