By COLLEEN LONG and SEUNG MIN KIM
LEADVILLE, Colo. (AP) — President Joe Biden designated his administration’s first national monument at Camp Hale, a World War II training site in that state, as he called to protect “precious lands.” that tell the story of America.
The announcement is a boost for Colorado’s top Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, who has advocated for the nomination for years and is up for re-election in November. The location is an alpine training site where American soldiers prepared for battles in the Italian Alps during World War II.
“We’re not doing this just for today, but for all ages,” Biden said, standing amid the rugged, sunny backdrop flanked by mountains as far as the eye could see. The remote site was located on a winding road past an abandoned mine and an old mountain house. “It’s for the people of Colorado, but it goes way beyond the people of Colorado as well. It’s for all the people across America and the world.
The proclamation officially establishes Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument, which spans over 53,800 acres that will be protected and managed by the US Forest Service. Many members of the 10th Mountain Division who trained at Camp Hale returned to Colorado after the war and helped create the state’s lucrative ski industry. The site is now used for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, and is home to rare wildlife.
“The soldiers at Camp Hale learned to rock climb, ski and survive, preparing for the war they were about to fight,” said Biden, who for Wednesday’s announcement was joined by two veterans of the 10th Mountain Division. He praised the “skills, strength and stamina of the troops that could only have been acquired in a place like this”.
While most national monuments protect extraordinary natural landscapes, there are at least 12 other military sites designated as national monuments by other presidents.
Biden on Wednesday called his designation a permanent one that none of his future successors can undo, despite previous presidents having reduced the size of national monuments. The question of whether a president can eliminate a national monument has not been resolved in court.
Donald Trump has shrunk two national monuments in southern Utah, a decision that tribes and environmental groups have challenged in court. Those cases were on hold when Biden reinstated full monument protection and expanded one of its boundaries. Biden also restored protections to an area off the coast of New England that Trump had opened up to commercial fishing.
In a separate move, the Biden administration also announced Wednesday that it was suspending new mining, oil and gas drilling on 225,000 acres of public land in the Thompson Divide, an area rich in natural gas not far from Camp Hale.
Citing the need to protect wildlife, the Home Office said it was beginning a review of a proposed 20-year setback from the area of the new tenancy. Preexisting natural gas leases that represent less than 1% of active federal leases in Colorado will not be affected.
Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose western Colorado district is home to the new restrictions, condemned the move as a “land grab” that would prevent home energy production.
The president’s stop in Colorado on Wednesday is part of a three-state swing in the West this week. Later Wednesday, Biden will travel to California, where he will host a pair of events promoting two of his most significant legislative accomplishments and headline a fundraiser for the House Democrats’ campaign arm. .
Finally, Biden will stop in Oregon. where his party risks losing the gubernatorial race, to rally the Democrats. Early voting begins in Oregon and Colorado next week and is already underway in California.
In particular, he stays away from states where his presence could hurt the Democrats; on that trip, he skips Nevada and Arizona, where incumbent Democratic senators are battling tough re-election bids.
Democratic candidates have been far more likely to appear with Biden if it’s an official White House event, and that was the approach in Colorado, where Bennet stood alongside the president to tout the designation.
“You have excellent taste, Mr. President, for your administration’s first national monument designation,” Bennett said Wednesday. “Your designation means more Americans will come to appreciate the extraordinary history of this place – a history that dates back to when Colorado was a state.”
Meanwhile, Bennet’s opponent, Republican Joe O’Dea, called Biden’s visit a “political stunt.”
“It does not change our economy. It doesn’t change the price of gasoline,” O’Dea said in a Camp Hale designation interview. He added that while “Camp Hale is a special place,” its preservation should have gone through Congress. O’Dea called Biden’s unilateral action a “usurpation of power.” A much more sweeping conservation bill has stalled in Congress due to opposition from Republicans.
O’Dea, a moderate-profile businessman, has launched a competitive bid against Bennet, who has served in the Senate since 2009. National Republicans believe he is among the party’s top recruits this cycle.
Still, the race still remains some reach for Republicans, who see better offensive opportunities in states like Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Still, the Senate Leadership Fund, the main super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate, made its first investment of the cycle in Colorado last week by sending $1.25 million to O’Dea’s super PAC. .
Kim reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi, Jesse Bedayn and James Anderson in Denver, and Matthew Daly in Washington, contributed to this report.
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