House panel approves largest Colorado land-protection package in decades
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today approved the largest land-protection package for Colorado in the past 25 years.
The legislation – introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) – would designate more than 600,000 acres in 32 areas across Colorado as federally-protected wilderness, giving those areas the highest level of land protection available. It was approved by a vote of 21 – 13.
“This bill will permanently protect 32 unique areas across our state from the threat of future development and the destruction caused by drilling for oil and gas,” DeGette told lawmakers on the panel before the vote. “It will help grow Colorado’s thriving tourism economy, and our multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.”
While more than two-thirds of the areas to be protected under DeGette’s bill are already being treated as wilderness, the legislation – known as the Colorado Wilderness Act (H.R. 2546) – will provide those areas permanent protection, ensuring they remain untouched for many years to come.
“Providing these majestic landscapes the permanent protection they deserve will ensure they remain available for many years to come,” DeGette said. “The only thing more amazing than the land this bill will protect, is the support we’ve received along the way.”
Unlike many of the high-elevation wilderness landscapes that are already protected throughout the state, DeGette’s legislation would protect more mid-elevation ecosystems that not only serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife, but are often used by Coloradans for a wide-range outdoor recreation activities – such as hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting and more.
Proponents of DeGette’s legislation say that it will not only protect Colorado’s environment, it will also provide a significant boost to the economy.
According to the Colorado Office of Economic Development, Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry generates $28 billion in consumer spending annually in the state; and supports more than 229,000 jobs that pay $9.7 billion in salaries and wages to Colorado workers.
The country’s largest outdoor industry association, the Outdoor Industry Association, which represents more than 1,200 outdoor recreation manufacturers, retailers distributors and suppliers across the U.S. has endorsed DeGette’s bill. While more than 350 other businesses throughout Colorado have also voiced their support for the plan.
If approved, the Colorado Wilderness Act would increase the total amount of protected wilderness in Colorado by nearly 20% - from 3.5 million acres to 4.1 million acres.
It’s approval by the committee comes just months after the same panel voted to approve a similar measure sponsored by DeGette and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) to protect more than 400,000 acres of across the state. Those two measures combined could protect more than one million acres of land as wilderness across the state.
DeGette has been working on the legislation approved today for more than 20 years. In 1999, shortly after she was first elected to Congress, DeGette was approached by a group of concerned citizens who had been working for years to identify untouched areas throughout our state that could qualify as wilderness. Since that moment, DeGette has been working hand-in-hand with the group – as well as with residents and community leaders from across the state – to craft the legislation that was approved today.
While DeGette has introduced a similar version of the Colorado Wilderness Act in every Congress since 1999, today’s vote was the first time that it has been called up for a vote by the committee. Now that it’s been approved by the panel, it will soon head to the full House for consideration.
A copy of DeGette’s legislation (H.R. 2546) is available here.
A map showing the areas that would be protected under DeGette’s bill is available here.
A copy of the press packet with more information on the bill, and the areas to be protected, is available here.
Video of DeGette’s remarks at today’s hearing before the vote on her bill is available here.