Gardner Hickenlooper side by side

From left: Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

John Hickenlooper launched a digital ad campaign Tuesday targeting U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner for the Colorado Republican's position on a public lands bill slated for a congressional vote later this week.

Hickenlooper is a former two-term governor and one of eight Democrats running for the chance to challenge Gardner in next year's election. He brands Gardner in a series of Facebook ads as the first Colorado senator from either party in more than 50 years who hasn't sponsored legislation to expand the state's wilderness areas.

Gardner hasn't signed on to a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, both Colorado Democrats, dubbed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, or the CORE Act — but he hasn't said he's opposed to the legislation, either.

The bill would protect roughly 400,000 acres of public lands, including more than 40,000 acres set aside in new and expanded wilderness areas in the state. It would also designate nearly 30,000 acres surrounding Camp Hale in Eagle County — where the Army's 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II — as the country's first National Historic Landscape.

“Coloradans need a senator who will stand up for public lands and listen to local communities,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. "I am calling on Sen. Gardner to join me and Coloradans from across our state in supporting the CORE Act.”

A public opinion survey released last week found that two-thirds of voters on Colorado's Western Slope and adjacent counties want more public lands designated as wilderness areas.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 4.9%, also found that overwhelming majorities of voters from across the political spectrum believe that public lands help the economy rather than hurt it.

Earlier Tuesday, The Colorado Sun reported that the White House had issued a statement threatening to veto the bill, which is scheduled to come before the full U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, saying lawmakers haven't sufficiently addressed local concerns.

Bennet told Colorado Politics that the White House's objections are unfounded.

“Coloradans know what’s best for our state — not Washington," the senator said in an emailed statement.

 “The CORE Act was drafted by Coloradans, for Coloradans — engaging with stakeholders across the state for nearly a decade to hammer out a reasonable public lands bills with broad support.”

Gardner's Senate office didn't respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the CORE Act. Earlier this year, however, Gardner's office said the senator supported "moving the bill forward," and, while he said there were "some issues" he hoped could be resolved, he hoped it "can pass and receive support from our colleagues."

Scott Braden, then a wilderness and public lands advocate with Conservation Colorado, attacked Gardner in a February article for what he termed "a Colorado-sized gap between the story he is telling about his public lands advocacy and the facts."

"The truth is that (Gardner) is an outlier among a long line of Colorado’s senators," Braden wrote in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. "He is the only senator of either party in more than 50 years to fail to support legislation to protect public lands and wilderness in Colorado.”

Gardner was among the leaders in the fight earlier this year to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and on Tuesday joined with seven other senators — including Bennet — to introduce legislation to ensure full funding for the program. He's authored several public land bills that have become law and in 2015 was one of only three Republicans to oppose GOP efforts to strip protection for dozens of Wilderness Study Areas.

Gardner and Hickenlooper have both been named a Friend of the Outdoor Industry, an annual honor bestowed by the Outdoor Industry Association — Gardner in 2017 and Hickenlooper in 2018.

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