Diana DeGette

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver makes a case to protect 1.4 million acres of public land in her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

Two Democratic members of Congress from Colorado were able to get their long-sought wilderness wishes into the $740 billion defense spending bill that passed the House Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette's bill to protect nearly 1.4 million acres of wilderness in Colorado, California and Washington passed the House Tuesday afternoon as part of a National Defense Authorization Act.

The bill passed 295-125, a veto-proof majority, which matters since the president has threatened to veto the bill that calls for renaming military bases named after Confederate generals.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Boulder County led an amendment to add the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or the CORE Act, to set aside 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado to the National Defense Authorization Act.

DeGette's bill includes 660,000 acres in 36 areas across Colorado, including the Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs. About two-thirds of the areas covered by the bill already are treated as wilderness because of their remote mid-elevation ecosystems that are critical habitats for plants and wildlife, as well as opportunities for limited outdoor recreation.

The wilderness designation would protect the land from future development, including logging, mining, drilling or road building.

A Colorado Department of Natural Resources official told a congressional committee that a bill to designate more than 400,000 acres of land in the state as “protected” would benefit conservation and the local economy.

DeGette introduced the legislation in January, and House initially passed the Colorado Wilderness Act on a 231-183 vote in February. Since then, the legislation has waited in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

DeGette was able to tuck the proposal into the National Defense Authorization Act as an amendment, at it ensures Colorado's High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site will be able to operations, a sticking point in DeGette's efforts to get the bill she's been working on for two decades into law.

“The purpose behind this amendment is simple,” the congresswoman from Denver said in a statement. “It’s to protect more of America’s public lands and to ensure some of our nation’s most elite military pilots have the opportunity to train for some of the harshest environments on the planet.”

The bill also includes 312,500 acres in northwest California, 287,500 acres in central California and 121,700 acres in Southern California. and 131,900 acres in Washington state.

You can watch DeGette's floor speech on the bill by clicking here.

Neguse's bill also has previously passed the House only to wither in the Senate, but the proposal has been around for a decade.

“The CORE Act was carefully-crafted by Coloradans over the last decade and they deserve to see this bill—which would conserve treasured public lands in our state and make major investments in our outdoor recreation economy—considered by the Senate. The CORE Act would create the first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale to honor the 10th Mountain Army Division and the legacy of Sandy Treat, a local WWII veteran, with an overlook named in his honor. As a result, the bill’s inclusion in the NDAA makes perfect sense, and I am proud to see its passage out of the House today.” 

The bill includes 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas and nearly 80,000 acres in new recreation and conservation management areas, as well as the first National Historic Landscape to honor Colorado’s military legacy at Camp Hale in Summit and Eagle counties.

Watch Neguse's floor speech by clicking here.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, considered the Democrats' amendments a "land grab." He pointed to more than 400 changes added to the bill he had voted for when it was before the House Armed Services Committee, where it passed unanimously.

"House Democrats have used the historically bipartisan defense bill as a vehicle for them to lump in their non-defense related progressive policies which they’d otherwise be unable to get passed into law," Lamborn said in a statement Tuesday night. "There are far too many extraneous far-left amendments in this bill for me to support. These amendments include two Democrat lands bills, the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, together which make up the largest land grab in Colorado’s history.

"There are other provisions to eliminate student loan debt, hamstring our nuclear modernization efforts, and inject progressive social policies into the Department of Defense which I cannot support. This bill even ties the hands of President Trump and future presidents from using our military to help quell insurrections and manage civil unrest."

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Aurora, provided a long list of military programs and benefits that he, as combat veteran from Afghanistan and Iraq, was glad to support.

"Whether at Buckley Air Force Base or in Afghanistan, I have seen our men and women in uniform put service above self," he stated. "This year’s NDAA is a testament to that and ensures we continue to advocate for our service members while taking into account the threats of tomorrow including climate security, biodefense, and election security.

“I’m proud to see this year’s NDAA pass with such strong bipartisan support at such a critical time in our nation’s history.”

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