DENVER (AP) — The Biden administration is preparing to designate its first new national monument, preserving a World War 2-era alpine training site and providing a boost to the reelection campaign of the state’s senior Senator, Michael Bennet, according to a person familiar with the process.
The designation is expected to come next week, when the president will join Bennet, a fellow Democrat, and other elected officials in Colorado, according to the person, who declined to be identified discussing the designation before it is formally announced. Bennet is locked in a re-election fight with Republican businessman Joe O'Dea, during which the Democrat has pushed the president to preserve Camp Hale, about 20 miles south of Vail.
The camp was where soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division trained in the harsh, wintry conditions of the Rocky Mountains in preparation for fighting in the Italian Alps during World War 2. After the war, many returned to Colorado and played pivotal roles in the founding of the state's ski industry.
Bennet pushed for the national monument designation after a far more sweeping conservation bill known as the CORE Act stalled in Congress. That legislation was opposed by many of the state's Republican politicians. Some, most prominently Rep. Lauren Boebert, have also objected to the Camp Hale preservation, warning it could lock up land that it could be used for mining or timber harvesting.
A 1906 law allows a president to designate an area a national monument to preserve important ecological or historical landscapes. Monuments have become controversial in the west as rural residents and conservative politicians complain they can kill jobs and limit development. At the same time, land conservation is generally popular with politicians and voters of all stripes in the region.
Biden has expanded the boundaries of two southern Utah national monuments that were shrunk by former President Donald Trump. But Biden has not designated any of his own in his initial two years in office.
Environmental groups were pleased. Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement that reports of the impending designation are “a welcome sign that the president is listening to Westerners who want to see public lands and landmarks protected for future generations.”
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.