Try, trying again with legislation to add wilderness in White River National Forest |

Try, trying again with legislation to add wilderness in White River National Forest

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper speaks during the signing of the Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument Wednesday in Camp Hale. The area housed more than 15,000 soldiers during the height of its existence.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Saying the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act gets closer to becoming law with each pass, Colorado lawmakers announced on Wednesday that they are again introducing the bill in Congress.

The CORE Act would protect more than 420,000 acres of public land in Colorado, adding 71,000 acres of new wilderness to Colorado, including expansions of the Eagles Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas in Eagle County. The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives five times but has failed to pass the Senate.

The latest iteration has removed land designations including the Tenmile Recreation Management Area and the Camp Hale National Historic Landscape from the bill, as those areas received new protections when Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range became a national monument in October.

On Wednesday, lawmakers said the Camp Hale/Tenmile Range National Monument designation from President Joe Biden created a new reason to keep pushing for the CORE Act.

“I think the monument designation helps build momentum,” Bennet said. “Those designations themselves have the support of the vast majority of the people in Colorado, 80% of people support the CORE Act throughout Colorado and want the rest of it done, as well.”

During the last congressional term, the CORE Act received its first Senate committee vote when the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources offered a 10-10 split decision on the bill.

Bennet, on Wednesday, said the strides made during the last Congress showed progress in getting the CORE Act passed.

“Last Congress, we came closer than we ever have before to passing the bill,” he said, saluting Sen. John Hickenlooper for helping the bill to receive a hearing in Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Bennet also acknowledged Rep. Joe Neguse for his help in seeing the bill passed time and time again in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Neguse, a Democrat who represents Eagle County in the U.S. House of Representatives, also expressed optimism in getting the bill passed again in 2023.

“The bill, as it’s passed through the House on previous occasions, has passed with Republican support,” he said. “Different members of Congress, who caucus with the Republicans, from different parts of the country, who voted in favor of this legislation, I think have been convinced by the depth of local support.”

He pointed to the local county commissioners on hand at the announcement on Wednesday, including Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry, as examples of the support the bill has received at the local level. Chandler-Henry said Eagle County has been working on the CORE Act for more than a decade.

“We’ve engaged diverse groups in our county — from anglers and backcountry hikers to snowmobilers and bird watchers,” she said.

Hickenlooper said, in addition to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, the bill has received support from all Colorado counties affected by the bill.

“I think every county involved supports the parts of the bill within their boundaries,” he said.

One area of the CORE Act that didn’t receive overwhelming local support was a proposed expansion of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, which was originally planned to be increased by 9,670 acres through the inclusion of two new areas known as the Proposed Freeman Creek Wilderness Addition and the Proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Addition.

The Proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Addition received pushback from the town of Vail, with Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak urging the Town Council to ask lawmakers to change the part of the CORE Act, which expands wilderness into the Spraddle Creek area.

“There are some concerns with our future ability to implement wildfire mitigation programs and projects in wilderness areas,” he said in December 2021.

While the town of Vail voiced its support the CORE Act in a December 2021 letter to Bennet, the letter also expressed concern regarding the Eagles Nest Wilderness expansion around this Creek area north of town.

The new CORE Act bill text shows a reduction of the Eagles Nest Wilderness expansion, from 9,670 acres to 7,634 acres, which is a result of an alteration of the Proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Addition. The new bill text calls out a new designation, called the “Proposed Spraddle Creek Wildlife Conservation Area,” which is carved out of the former Proposed Spraddle Creek Wilderness Addition in the areas of the former wilderness addition nearest to Interstate 70.

The latest version of the CORE Act would create a new Spraddle Creek Wildlife Conservation Area in an alteration from a previous version of the bill, which aimed to expand the Eagles Nest Wilderness by 9,670 acres. The less restrictive wildlife conservation area shrinks the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area expansion by more than 2,000 acres and would allow the forest service greater flexibility for logging in the name of wildfire safety.
Courtesy image

A wildlife conservation area, unlike wilderness, would allow the U.S. Forest Service to conduct logging projects through the construction of temporary roads used for “carrying out a vegetation management project,” according to the bill text. Once those logging projects are complete, USFS would then be allowed to sell harvested timber from the Proposed Spraddle Creek Wildlife Conservation Area if it is a byproduct of a vegetation management project conducted in the area.

The Secretary of Agriculture “may carry out any activity, in accordance with applicable laws (including regulations), that the Secretary determines to be necessary to manage wildland fire and treat hazardous fuels, insects, and diseases in the Wildlife Conservation Area, subject to such terms and conditions as the Secretary determines to be appropriate,” according to the new bill text.

The new bill also differs from its previous iterations in aiming to honor Sandy Treat Jr., a Vail local and World War II veteran who was a supporter of the CORE Act and died in 2019. The new bill calls for the creation of a new interpretive site to be located beside U.S. Highway 24 within the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, designated as “The Sandy Treat Overlook.”

Neguse mentioned Treat in his comments, calling him a great man and a friend. He quoted Treat, saying Treat once wrote “I grew up in an America that valued our wild lands, and this is a value I hope lives on long after I’m gone.”

Find more information about the CORE Act, including the latest bill text, by visiting