Biden administration protects vast swath of Colorado land
President Biden took steps Wednesday to prevent oil and gas drilling and other development on roughly 436 square miles in Colorado — a collective land mass larger than Rocky Mountain National Park.
Why it matters: The executive action to designate the area surrounding Camp Hale as a national monument, combined with a new effort to protect the Thompson Divide near Carbondale, is being heralded by environmentalists as one of the largest conservation efforts in generations.
Between the lines: The moves sidestep congressional inaction on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act — a major priority for the state's Democratic lawmakers in Washington — and deliver a win for Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the legislation's lead proponent, at a key moment in his re-election campaign.
- The CORE Act would protect an estimated 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado.
What they're saying: In the announcement, the Biden administration advocated for the preservation by citing the history at Camp Hale, where World War II soldiers trained, and the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
- "These are real things that people have demanded for a long time and things that are going to make a big difference in how we approach these dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss," said Beau Kiklis, public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado, an environmental advocacy organization.
- The opponents, including Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose district encompasses the Thompson Divide, called Biden's move a "federal land grab."
Details: Biden traveled to the site near Leadville to sign a proclamation designating the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument under the Antiquities Act, his first such action since taking office.
- The 53,804 acres covered by the action include the Tenmile Range near Breckenridge and Quandary Peak, one of the state's 14,000-foot mountains.
The trip coincided with the more significant announcement that the Biden administration is moving to prohibit mining and oil and gas drilling for two years on a 225,000-acre parcel of the Thompson Divide as it develops a plan for a 20-year ban.
- No current oil drilling takes place on the land, and the federal government has not offered leases for sale for several years, the White House said. However, natural gas exploration could continue on parcels with existing leases.
- The disposition of the Thompson Divide became one of the most controversial proposals in the CORE Act and prevented its passage under a Republican-controlled Senate in prior years.
What's next: The Biden administration will create a management plan in coming months for allowable uses of the land surrounding Camp Hale, but made clear it wouldn't affect existing public uses, such as skiing, hiking, camping and snowmobiling.
- Public comment is open on the future of the Thompson Divide as an environmental assessment is conducted. What public uses are allowed in the future remains unsettled.
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