President Biden is likely to designate a historic military site in Colorado as a new national monument in the coming weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter, which could bar mining and drilling there.
Colorado’s Camp Hale, a World War II-era military training ground along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains and the Tenmile Range has attracted visitors for their stunning landscapes and provided habitat for wildlife including elk, bears, otters, lynxes and migratory songbirds.
Biden has yet to create a national monument since taking office. The new designation would bypass gridlock on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have opposed legislation sponsored by Colorado Democrats — including Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who faces a tougher-than-expected reelection race — to permanently protect these sites and other historic state landscapes.
The official designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument could come as soon as this month, although no final decisions have been made, according to one person familiar with the matter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
During World War II, Camp Hale served as training grounds for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, housing up to 17,000 troops. At an elevation of 9,200 feet, the site was ideal for training in skiing, snowshoeing and rock climbing — skills that ultimately helped the soldiers defeat the Axis in Italy. After the war, some of the same soldiers who toiled at what they called “Camp Hell” returned to the region to help launch Colorado’s booming ski industry.
Bennet has urged Biden to protect the area by using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president wide latitude to safeguard public lands and waters for the enjoyment of all Americans. The senator spoke to the president about issue on Tuesday.
Bennet’s bid for a third term has attracted national attention as Democrats battle to keep their razor-thin majority in the Senate. His Republican opponent, Denver business executive Joe O’Dea, acknowledges Trump lost the 2020 election, unlike many other GOP candidates in toss-up states like Arizona and Pennsylvania.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the potential monument announcement. Bennet’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since taking office, Biden has used his powers to restore full protections to three national monuments that had been slashed by former President Donald Trump, including Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — known for their historical treasures of Native American art and settlements.
Biden invoked the Antiquities Act to protect 1.36 million acres in Bears Ears — slightly larger than the original boundary that President Barack Obama established in 2016 — while also restoring the 1.87 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument. Biden also reimposed fishing limits in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England that Trump had opened to commercial fishing.
Although it’s unclear how large the new national monument would be, Bennet and other Colorado Democrats have introduced a bill that offers some recommendations for its size and boundaries. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act would protect more than 400,000 acres of public lands, including 28,676 acres surrounding Camp Hale and 17,122 acres in the Tenmile Range. The measure is backed by Sen. John Hickenlooper and Reps. Joe Neguse, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter.
After passing the House with bipartisan support, the bill has stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans, who have slammed a provision that would withdraw certain areas from new mining and mineral leasing. In May, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee deadlocked 10-10 over the measure along party lines.
“We need to increase American development of energy and critical minerals,” Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the panel’s top Republican, said at a May hearing. “Now isn’t the time to be permanently withdrawing federal land.”
Over the past 116 years, 17 presidents in both parties have used the law to designate 158 national monuments, according to Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy group.
“There are so many conservation bills languishing in Congress that have local support, but it is hard to get anything through the Senate when it comes to land protection,” Weiss said. “This is exactly why the Antiquities Act exists.”
Soon after taking office, Biden set a goal of conserving 30% of the nation’s land and waters by 2030 under the “America the Beautiful” initiative. Administration officials have been eyeing Camp Hale since July 2021, when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Colorado and participated in a roundtable discussion with Bennet and Hickenlooper on their legislation to protect the landscape.
Biden officials have continued to look at other potential national monuments across the country. Last week, Haaland visited a site in southern Nevada known as Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, that is considered sacred by several Native American tribes.