Biden to designate Colorado’s Camp Hale as a national monument

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President Biden will travel to Colorado on Wednesday to designate a World War II military site as a national monument, using his executive powers to protect the historic landscape and delivering on a key priority for Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) before the midterm elections next month.

Biden has yet to create an entirely new national monument, although he has expanded existing national monuments that President Donald Trump has reduced in size. The designation will apply to Camp Hale, which served as a winter training ground for the army in the 1940s and now provides critical habitat for wildlife including elk, deer, lynx and migratory songbirds. .

Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument will encompass more than 53,800 acres and will also include the Tenmile Mountain Range, a mountain range with stunning views popular with hikers and climbers, according to a White House fact sheet.

In addition to creating the new national monument, Biden will propose Wednesday to remove 225,000 acres in the Thompson Divide near potential new mining or drilling. The Department of the Interior and the Forest Service will seek public comment and conduct an environmental analysis on the ban on energy development there for 20 years.

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The move will bypass the gridlock on Capitol Hill, where a sweeping bill to protect Camp Hale and other Colorado historic sites has repeatedly stalled in the Senate. Bennet, one of the legislation’s longtime supporters, faces a tougher-than-expected re-election race as Democrats fight to retain control of both houses of Congress.

Bennet, who will appear with Biden in Colorado on Wednesday, is running against Republican Joe O’Dea, a Denver business executive. A spokesperson for O’Dea said he opposes Biden’s creation of the national monument, which relies on the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that empowers the president to protect land and public waters for the benefit of all Americans.

“Joe believes that conservation efforts around Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range should be determined by a bipartisan process in Congress, not unilateral and potentially illegal executive action that could be subject to lawsuits and uncertainty,” spokesperson Kyle Kohli said in an email.

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House Republicans, led by Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, raised similar concerns in a letter to Biden last month. Lawmakers added that the Camp Hale designation could lock in land that could be used for mining or timber harvesting.

A spokeswoman for Bennet’s campaign declined to comment.

The Bennett-backed legislation, known as the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or Core Act, aims to protect more than 400,000 acres across the Rockies. The measure – also sponsored by Sen. John Hickenlooper and Reps. Joe Neguse, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, all Colorado Democrats – passed the House four times but foundered in the equally divided Senate.

“Every time it comes before the House, we’re excited for things to happen,” said Brad Noone, a 10th Mountain Division veteran who deployed to Afghanistan and now lives in Salida, Colorado. . “But it still tends to stagnate in the Senate. . It absolutely looks like the closest we’ve ever come.

During World War II, Camp Hale housed up to 17,000 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. At an elevation of 9,200 feet, the site was ideal for practicing skiing, snowshoeing and rock climbing – skills that ultimately helped soldiers defeat Axis forces in Italy. After the war, some of the same soldiers who worked at what they called “Camp Hell” returned to the area to help start Colorado’s booming ski industry.

One of those soldiers, Pete Seibert, went on to found the Vail Ski Resort, cementing the town’s status as one of the nation’s top ski destinations.

“We simply wouldn’t be here if not for Pete Siebert’s training at Camp Hale,” Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid said, adding that the site and surrounding public lands “are the cornerstone of our community.”

Shortly after taking office, Biden set an ambitious goal to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030. Administration officials have been watching Camp Hale since July 2021, when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Colorado and participated in a round table with Core Act sponsors.

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Last fall, Biden restored full protection to three national monuments that Trump had downsized, including Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, known for their historic treasures of Native American art and settlements. Biden also reimposed fishing limits in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which Trump had opened up to commercial fishing.

Democrats, environmentalists and Indigenous leaders have urged Biden to use his powers to safeguard various other landscapes across the country. In particular, many defenders have focused on a site in southern Nevada known as Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, which several Native American tribes hold sacred.

“This designation shows that President Biden is thinking about his conservation legacy, not only restoring the damage of the Trump years, but laying the foundation for his own legacy in the future,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy organization. band.

“We hope,” he said, “that Camp Hale-Continental Divide is the first of many national monuments the president is protecting.”

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