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News 2014

Drought Update: California still struggling, while Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico also experience severe conditions

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NYT Drought MapThis interactive map from The New York Times shows how drought has grown and retreated since March.Drought continues to plague the West.

According to the U.S Drought Monitor, 30 percent of the U.S. was grappling with moderate to extreme drought at the end of June. The New York Times just published an interactive graphic map (Mapping the Spread of Drought) that shows how drought has grown and retreated in the U.S., particularly in the West.

California has been especially hard hit by an historic drought. Some recent headlines:

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 50% of California is experiencing "exceptional" drought -- the harshest on a five-level scale. Previously, the Times reported that more than 80% of California is now in an "extreme drought." Three months ago, it was 68%. Read the story.

Heat and drought have meant more wildfires in California this year by a wide margin. See how much more.

A recent study by the University of California, Davis showed a staggering 2014 impact of the drought on state agriculture.

The groundwater level in the San Bernardino Basin area is at its lowest point in recorded history.

The opening in San Jose of a new, high-tech water purification plant means they will be able to greatly expand use of recycled water.

Drought also continues across the West as well:

Lake Mead in Nevada has dropped to its lowest level since it was first filled

Wildfires continue to rage in Washington, Oregon

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Northwest Wildfires 2014Northwest Fires Map, 2014 (Northwest Interagency Coordination Center)Wildfires continue to burn in enormous areas of Washington and Oregon. Here's an update:

WASHINGTON

The Carlton Complex of fires has burned nearly 400 square miles in the north-central part of Washington and destroyed 150 homes. The Associated Press now reports that the cost of fighting this season's wildfires in Washington has crossed the $50 million mark. Learn more and get the latest on fire-fighting efforts.

President Obama on July 22 approved a request by Gov. Jay Inslee for an Emergency Declaration to make additional federal resources available to help with the ongoing wildfires response. According to the Governor's office, "this assistance will help address power outages in areas where electric infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, and will also assist with debris removal." (The president also mentioned his work with Western Governors on wildfires in some remarks at a Washington event.)

Gov. Inslee declared a state of emergency on July 15 in the 20 counties of Eastern Washington and since then has amended the proclamation on July 21 and on Aug. 1 to include a temporary outdoor burn ban in Eastern Washington, effective through Aug. 8.

OREGON

In Oregon, firefighters are closing in on full containment of the massive wildfires in the state, but hot weather will continue to cause problems as they continue to monitor the 13 wildfires that have scorched nearly 620,000 acres. Learn more.Oregon Wildfire 2014The White River Fire (Oregon De

Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency on July 16, which mobilized the Oregon National Guard to assist the Department of Forestry, the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office, and others with firefighting. See fire updates from the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Find updates and maps of wildfires for Oregon and Washington by visiting the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

CALIFORNIA

The Los Angeles Times reports that frought and high temperatures have led to a significant jump in wildfires in California (Learn more) and NBC News reports that the cost to battle wildfires could reach $1 billion in the state alone.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook. 

Executive Director's Notebook: A cowboy's principles offers great guidance for us all

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By Jim Ogsbury

The first time I introduced former congressman and current Idaho Governor Butch “C.L.” Otter, I publicly ventured that he was more comfortable in his cowboy boots than in the wingtips of Capitol Hill. Later he took me aside and explained that he never wore a pair of wingtips in his life.

Cowboy EthicsGov. Otter is no drugstore cowboy. He and his wife, Lori, have a long history of rodeo participation, and I’ve learned that the sure way to draw him to the Western Governors' Association Winter Meeting is to hold it in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo.

Illustrating his devotion to the Western way of life, the Governor recently shared with me 10 principles to live by (drawn from James Owens’ book Cowboy Ethics):

1) Live Each Day with Courage.
2) Take Pride in Your Work.
3) Always Finish What You Start.
4) Do What Has to Be Done.
5) Be Tough, But Fair.
6) When You Make a Promise, Keep It.
7) Ride for the Brand.
8) Talk Less and Say More.
9) Remember That Some Things Aren’t For Sale.
10) Know Where to Draw the Line.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I’m committed to learning these principles – not only because they offer a great guide to life but also because Governor Otter has threatened to quiz me on them during WGA’s meeting in December.

Jim Ogsbury is the Executive Director of the Western Governors' Association. Contact him at 303-623-9378 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Western Governors support 'Protecting Lakes Against Quaggas Act'

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Quagga PhotoWestern Governors support S. 2530, the “Protecting Lakes Against Quaggas Act of 2014,” introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada).

"Quagga mussels have a significant impact on the economy and environment in the West and your legislation proposes strong steps to confront this growing problem," the governors said in a letter signed by Western Governors' Association (WGA) Chairman, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Vice Chairman, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

WGA previously expressed support for similar legislation introduced in the House last year (H.R. 1823, the “Protecting Lakes Against Quaggas Act of 2013.”).

The governors, however, welcomed the additional provision in the Senate bill "clarifying that water transfers which may unintentionally transport quagga mussels through water conveyances are not in violation of the Lacey Act. The Governors note that restricting the movement of water across state lines would place an undue burden on states that rely on deliveries of water from upstream neighbors."

Read and download the letter.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook. 

California drought study shows statewide cost of $2.2 billion, loss of 17,100 agricultural jobs

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A new study revealsCalifornia Drought Study that California's historic drought will cost the state $2.2 billion in 2014 and result in the loss of more than 17,000 jobs. The report released on Tuesday (July 15, 2014) by the University of California Davis Center for Watershed Sciences also reports:

The drought in 2014 will result in a 6.6 million acre-foot reduction in surface water available to agriculture.
This surface water loss will be partially replaced by increasing groundwater pumping by 5 million acre-feet, at a cost of $454 million.
The resulting net water shortage of 1.6 million acre-feet will cause losses of $810 million in crop revenue and $203 million in dairy and other livestock value.
Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion.
The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs.

The study notes that groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, but that could be a perilous solutions. “California’s agricultural economy overall is doing remarkably well, thanks mostly to groundwater reserves,” said Jay Lund, a co-author of the study. “But we need to treat that groundwater well so it will be there for future droughts.”

Western Governors are well aware of the impact of drought. At the recent Western Governors' Association (WGA) Annual Meeting, the governors renewed a Memorandum of Understanding with NOAA to continue working together to disseminate drought and extreme weather data, information and analysis in support of resource management decisions in Western states.

New WGA Chairman, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, also announced that his Chairman's Initiative would be creation of the Western Governors Drought Forum. The Drought Forum, created to foster a dialogue about best practices for drought management, will include an analysis existing state drought plans, regional meetings on drought impacts to specific communities, and a report that captures these lessons learned.

Read and download the report.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook. 

Forest Service 'Groundwater Directive' prompts questions from Western Governors on state authority, science

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US Forest Service LogoSept. 17, 2014: Read a story by Amy Joi O'Donoughue of the Deseret News about members of the Utah Water Development Commission sending a letter to the U.S. Forest Service expressing their concern over the agency's proposed Forest Service directive on groundwater management.

July 23: Read the Elko Daily Free Press Commentary: Drunk with power, agencies come for our water.

July 3: Western Governors have expressed concern to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the United States Forest Service’s (USFS) recent Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management.

Western states are the exclusive authority for allocating, administering, protecting and developing groundwater resources, and they are responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries. That authority was recognized by Congress in the Desert Land Act of 1877 and reasserted in a 1935 Supreme Court ruling.

Despite that background, the Proposed Directive only identifies states as “potentially affected parties” and asserts that the proposed actions would “not have substantial direct effects on the states.”

An initial review of the Proposed Directive, however, leads Western Governors to believe that this measure could have significant implications for states and their groundwater resources. (Read our letter)

As a result, the Governors are requesting that USFS seek "authentic partnership" with the states to help achieve policies that reflect both the legal division of power and the on-the-ground realities of the region. In addition, the letter from the Western Governors' Association -- signed by WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and

WGA 2014 Annual Report highlights policy work in wildlife, energy, water, drought and wildfires

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2014 Annual ReportIt's been another busy, productive year of policy work for Western Governors.

That's not just talk: The recently published Western Governors' Association 2014 Annual Report details a year of successful policy initiatives on issues that included wildlife conservation, energy, water, drought and wildfires. And that's just to name a few of the regional issues tackled by the governors.

In addition to learning about WGA's extensive policy outreach, you'll find a letter from 2014 WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that examines the work of the past year. Gov. Hickenlooper also shines a light on the Western Governors Drought Forum, the coming year's initiative of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the 2015 WGA Chairman.

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury offers a compelling read on exactly why Western Governors are national leaders and you can learn more about how WGA operates, from finances to our board of directors.

Here's where to go read and download the 2014 WGA Annual Report

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook. 

Nevada Gov. Sandoval supports USDA investment in Bi-State Action Plan for sage-grouse

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Gov SandovalNevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, incoming Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, expressed his support today (June 20, 2014) for the U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to provide up to $25.5 million of conservation investments as part of its contribution to the federal, state and local 2012 Bi-State Action Plan.

"I am pleased with these agreements and the strengthening of our ongoing partnership with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior," said Gov. Sandoval. "This announcement, coupled with promising population data, underscores our firm belief that the bi-state sage grouse is not warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act."

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a release, said the investment over the next 5 to 10 years will "accelerate and focus conservation efforts that will benefit ranchers and also the distinct population of greater sage-grouse that lives along the border of Nevada and California." The bi-state population of sage-grouse is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

On the state level, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is committing $2.5 million

Western governors support bipartisan land-exchange reform bill introduced in the House

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idaho farragut 2LISTEN: Public radio station KUER in Salt Lake City, part of the National Public Radio Digital Network, reported this story about why land exchange reform is a good idea with bipartisan support. Story.

Western Governors strongly support federal land exchange reform legislation introduced in the House today (June 19, 2014) by Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

The Advancing Conservation Education Act of 2014 (H.R. 4901) facilitates state-federal land exchanges, now a complex process that more often prevents land exchanges. Consequently, state lands remain locked in federal conservation areas, and states are deprived the economic benefit of land grants that were made to fund education and other purposes.

The Western Governors' Association (WGA) delivered a letter today that expressed WGA's belief that the bill's language, which improves the process by which states can relinquish lands within federal conservation areas and select unappropriated lands of equal value, represents a strong step toward

Interior makes $436 million payment to local governments in PILT funding for vital services

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PILTCoverInterior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today (June 17, 2014) that roughly 1,900 counties around the country are receiving a total of $436.9 million under the 2014 Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

The payments include about $384 million for states served by the Western Governors' Association, which worked with House and Senate Appropriations Committees back in December to support full funding in the final FY14 Appropriations bill. 

The FY14 Congressional budget deal included language for PILT to be funded, but left it up to appropriators to make the final decision on whether the program would be funded and to what extent. Ultimately, payments were included as part of the Farm Bill approved on Feb. 4, 2014. (Read and download our letter.)

PILT is payment to counties for nearby federally-owned lands to make up for taxes that would be collected locally if those lands were privately held. States and local governments use the funds for services such as

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury speaking at Wyoming Mining Association meeting

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jim color 2Western Governors' Association Executive Director Jim Ogsbury will address the Wyoming Mining Association during its annual convention in Jackson Hole.

Ogsbury will deliver his remarks on Thursday (June 19) at the Jackson Lake Lodge.

The WGA leader is part of an impressive speakers' lineup at the meeting, which includes Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, University of Wyoming President Richard McGinity, and Stuart Sanderson of the Colorado Mining Association.

The Wyoming Mining Association represents and advocates for 39 mining companies producing bentonite, coal, trona and uranium. The convention runs from Wednesday through Friday (June 18-20). Learn more.

WGA recently hosted 10 Western Governors at its Annual Meeting. Read a recap.

VIDEO: See what WGA has accomplished in the past 30 years. Watch.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

WGA Annual Meeting Day 3: Governors elect Nevada's Brian Sandoval Chairman, Oregon's John Kitzhaber Vice Chair for coming year

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Gov SandovalNevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was elected Chairman of the Western Governors' Association (WGA) and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was elected Vice-Chairman on the final day (June 11, 2014) of the 2014 WGA Annual Meeting.

Gov. Sandoval takes the gavel from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has served as WGA Chairman for the past year. After the announcement of the vote, the Nevada governor delivered closing remarks on his initiative for the coming year.

"Historically, Governors have led the fight against drought in their states. I expect that to continue," said Gov. Sandoval. "Such executive leadership is the heart of my Chairman’s initiative – the creation of the Western Governors Drought Forum.

"The Forum will support governors’ leadership on drought preparedness and response. We’ve touched on a number of topics during the meeting this week that I hope we can expand upon by leveraging the water, agriculture, and resource experts in our states."

During the course of the coming year, the Forum will work to foster a dialogue about best practices for drought management. Deliverables include:

An analysis, already initiated by Gov. Hickenlooper, of existing state drought plans, common themes and unique approaches;

A series of regional meetings on drought impacts to specific communities, resources or industries;

A report that captures these lessons learned;

Publication of case studies via a best practices digital library;

Codifying the framework so that the Forum lives beyond its initial year.

Gov. Sandoval's remarks brought the three-day Annual Meeting to a close.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Western Governors held their final public policy session on "Managing Inter-related Challenges of Wildfire, ESA and Invasive Species." The Governors discussed how policy responses for inter-related challenges impact each other and must be integrated to address problems holistically.

Read a DAY 1 RECAP and DAY 2 RECAP of the meeting.

Check out a slideshow of photos featuring Governors, special guests and Annual Meeting events.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Western Governors approve 6 resolutions ranging from Regional Wildfire Resources to State Clean Air Act Authority

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Western Governors have agreed to six new policy resolutions on a variety of issues that range from Species of Concern and Candidate Species to Regional Wildfire Fighting Resources.

The new resolutions approved by the Governors on June 11, 2014, were announced by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the incoming WGA Chairman, at the 2014 Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs, hosted by outgoing WGA Chairman, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Respecting State Authority and Expertise: Except as mandated by Congress, the management of resources through the establishment of environmental standards and natural resource planning goals, as well as the means of achieving those standards and goals, should be left to the states.

Regional Wildfire Fighting Resources: Western Governors believe western states should work together to identify options to expand the availability and sharing of wildfire firefighting resources.

Species of Concern and Candidate Species: Western Governors believe that states need clear, concrete guidance from Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service about the requirements of conservation plans in meeting minimum conservation goals.

Federal Agreements with Western States: The federal government should honor its historic agreements with states and counties in the West to compensate them for state and local impacts associated with federal land use and nontaxable lands within their borders that are federally owned.

State Clean Air Act Authority and Air Quality Regulation: States have significant regulatory responsibility under the Clean Air Act and are tasked with developing implementation plans to accomplish CAA objectives.

State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis: Western Governors direct the Western Governors’ Wildlife Council to continue its guidance in the development, management and implementation with partners of the state CHATs and Western Governors’ CHAT.

To read and download these resolutions and previous resolutions, visit the Policies page on the WGA website.

For more information and to arrange an interview about the resolutions, contact Joe Rassenfoss, Communications Director, Western Governors’ Association, 303-803-8008 or send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

 

WGA Annual Meeting Day 2: Governors meet with EPA chief on carbon emissions rule, delve into water and energy issues

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Western Governors Colorado SpringsThe 10 Western Governors in attendance, from left: Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota, Gary Herbert of Utah, WGA Chairman John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Vice Chairman Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Steve Bullock of Montana, Jan Brewer of Arizona, and Butch Otter of Idaho.

Western Governors met with the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the recently proposed regulations on carbon emissions from existing coal plants during the second day of the 2014 WGA Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs.

While several Governors take issue with the rule, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy later characterized the discussions in a press conference as "collegial" and noted that the regulations aren't "the end-all be-all," but that she hopes it changes companies' strategies on energy EPA Chief McCarthyEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks with the mediadevelopment. Read what Governors such as John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Mead of Wyoming had to say in this Associated Press story.

McCarthy later delivered a keynote at the meeting, in which she noted "the states in this region are doing some wonderfully creative things to promote clean energy and energy efficiency." She also discussed the proposed rules and the model of "cooperative federalism" she hopes to apply to their rollout.

Fred P. Hochberg, Chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., delivered a keynote in which he noted that exports from western states that were supported by Ex-Im financing created or sustained 760,000 jobs over the last five years.

The first session of the day, about the challenges of managing water in the West, seemed appropriate on the same day that President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law. Western Governors advocated for WRRDA's reauthorization and worked to gain the inclusion of several priorities for western states. Learn more.

The day also included a session on energy in the west, as well as a "Western Issues Forum," hosted by Washington Post reporter Reid Wilson and featuring Governors Hickenlooper, Mead, Sandoval and Bullock.

Learn more by reading our DAY 1 RECAP and our DAY 3 RECAP.

Check out a slideshow of photos featuring Governors, special guests and Annual Meeting events.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

WGA Annual Meeting Day 1: President Obama, drought readiness, Secretary Jewell, MOU with NOAA

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WGA Press ConferenceGovernor John Hickenlooper discusses the Western Governors conversation with President Barack Obama about wildfires joined by, from left, Matt Mead, Dennis Daugaard, Steve Bullock, Butch Otter and Gary Herbert.

VIDEO: "This Week at Interior" includes Secretary Jewell's visit to Annual Meeting. Watch

The opening day of the 2014 Annual Meeting was historic for Western Governors, as they participated in a live video-teleconference with President Barack Obama to discuss the wildfire season and efforts to improve forest management, including an end to the practice of "fire borrowing."

While it was a continuation of the Governors' discussion with the President on wildfires, following a White House meeting in February, it represented the first time the Western Governors have had an in-person conversation with any president during a WGA meeting.

At a press conference that concluded Day One of the meeting at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, all of the governors characterized the conversation as positive and said they supported legislation in the House and Senate that would end the practice of taking money that would be used for fire mitigation to use for fire suppression.  

Jewell and GovsSecretary Jewell with governors Herbert, Otter and Mead at tourism MOU signing.The day began with members of the Western States Tourism Policy Council, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other federal agency heads today signing a memorandum of understanding aimed at promoting federal-state dialogue and cooperation on western states tourism and public lands issues. Governor John Hickenlooper spoke and was joined at the ceremony by governors Matt Mead of Wyoming, Gary Herbert of Utah and Butch Otter of Idaho.

The afternoon session included a keynote by Secretary Jewell, followed by a roundtable on "Preparing for and Responding to Drought and Flooding," moderated by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Guests on the panel included Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Department of Defense, and Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary, Department of Agriculture.

The afternoon session concluded the signing of an MOU by WGA Chairman Hickenlooper and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, to continue a collaboration on drought, flooding, and wildfire preparedness (Read more and download the MOU.)

The official business of the day concluded with the governors conducting a press conference attended by the Colorado Springs Gazette, Associated Press, E&E News and Washington Post.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, WGA Chairman, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Vice Chairman, hosted eight fellow governors at the 2014 Annual Meeting, including Arizona's Jan Brewer, Idaho's Butch Otter, Kansas's Sam Brownback, Montana’s Steve Bullock, , North Dakota's Jack Dalrymple, South Dakota's Dennis Daugaard, Utah's Gary Herbert and Wyoming's Matt Mead.

Learn more by reading our DAY 2 RECAP and our DAY 3 RECAP.

Check out a slideshow of photos featuring Governors, special guests and Annual Meeting events 

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook. 

Western Governors, NOAA sign agreement to deliver drought, extreme weather data to states

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The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding today (June 9, 2014) in Colorado Springs that renews and strengthens collaboration on drought and flood preparedness.

MOU Signing Gov. Hickenlooper and Dr. Kathyrn Sullivan at the MOU signing between NOAA and WGA. The purpose of the new MOU is to improve the development, coordination and dissemination of drought and extreme weather data, information and analysis in support of resource management decisions in Western states. 

The agreement was signed in a ceremony during the opening day of the 2014 WGA Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs by NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

"The droughts and wildfires across our nation's western states directly, or indirectly, affect us all,” said Dr. Sullivan. “NOAA is working, along with our partners like the WGA and governors, to ensure that people have the environmental intelligence they need to be prepared to tackle threats from drought and wildfires. From weather and water forecasts to climate analyses and predictions, demand for NOAA's data is greater than ever, as western businesses and citizens plan for what is likely to be a very dry summer."

The parties will work to ensure that collection and sharing of crucial drought, flooding and extreme weather-related data and

Watch the video: Western Governors' Association remains committed to policy work on 30th anniversary

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Western Governors have been working together for the betterment of the West for more than a century, but 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of their work under the umbrella of the Western Governors' Association.

To mark that milestone from 1984, WGA has created a short video that explains the association's creation, mission and ongoing work, including the insights of WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury.

It's an especially good time to re-examine our heritage as we close in on the Western Governors' Association Annual Meeting June 9-11 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

Enjoy the video.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Reauthorization of Water Resources Reform and Development Act includes 'wins' for Western Governors

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The 91-7 vote today (May 22, 2014) in the Senate to reauthorize the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) delivers significant ‘wins’ for Western Governors. The House approved the measure 412-4 earlier this week.

WRRDAThe influential water infrastructure legislation that guides federal water development, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will cost $5.4 billion over the 2015-2019 period, with $6.9 billion spent from 2020-2024 and additional spending in the years after 2024.

Western Governors strongly supported reauthorization of WRRDA because the responsible development and management of water resources is critical for Western states, which routinely face both scarcity issues and flood management challenges. (Read our letter.)

Here are the results of three specific WGA “asks” for the bill:

State Authority in Water Management: WGA asked conferees to continue to recognize and protect states’ interests and rights in water management, and to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from charging for surplus water. The conference committee responded

WGA appeals 'water transfers' ruling that would limit states' rights, add expense to Western water

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hoover-damThe Hoover Dam is one of the many engineering marvels that brings water to the West.UPDATE, May 29: The Environmental Protection Agency formally announced that it intends to appeal the court decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that vacated and remanded the “water transfers rule.” Previously on May 28, 11 Western states announced their intention to appeal the decision.

Original post, May 13: The West would be uninhabitable if not for engineering marvels that bring water from near and far to agricultural and urban areas. But a recent court ruling would create unneeded regulatory hurdles that would make these critical water transfers difficult to accomplish and prohibitively expensive.

That's why the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the Western States Water Council are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to appeal a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that vacated and remanded the “water transfers rule.”

The rule clarifies that water transfers are not subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

A letter sent on May 12 to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, co-signed by WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury

Colorado wildfire outlook 'normal,' but several parts of state worrisome

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Wildfire ScienceListen to the NPR story on scientists studying how wildfires behave. (Photo Sean Nealon/University of California, Riverside) The current outlook for significant wildland fire potential for Colorado is expected to be normal, at least for the early part of the wildfire season.

That was the word from Gov. John Hickenlooper and state wildfire experts, who made the announcement Monday (May 12).

At this time in Colorado the areas of greatest potential for wildfire are the plains of Eastern Colorado, until green-up expands; southeastern Colorado, where severe drought conditions continue; and southwest Colorado, where snowpack values are below average.

“We know wildfires are going to occur, and it’s up to everyone to make sure they are taking the right steps to mitigate the danger and be prepared,” Hickenlooper said. “With forecasts and planning, plus the addition of new resources related to wildfire response, we are doing what we can at the state level to be prepared in the best way possible.”

Find a complete report on Colorado here.

Learn more about wildfires by listening to this NPR story, which reports on how federal fire scientists are trying to better understand the physics behind what makes blazes spread. Listen.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper invites you to the Western Governors' Association 2014 Annual Meeting, June 9-11 at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Learn more and register.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

House, Senate edge closer to authorization of Water Resources Reform and Development Act

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WRRDAHouse and Senate lawmakers reached a deal Thursday (May 8, 2013) on a conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The E&E News story (subscription required) by Annie Snider notes "the legislation would authorize new lock, dam, levee and ecosystem restoration projects and attempt to peel back some of the red tape at the Army Corps of Engineers."

Western Governors strongly support reauthorization of WRRDA because the responsible development and management of water resources is particularly critical for Western states, which routinely face both scarcity issues and flood management challenges. (Read our letter.)

The legislation passed the Senate last May and was resoundingly approved by the House in October, 2013. However, the bills were significantly different and conference negotiations have been ongoing since November.

At this time, details of the deal are not being revealed until the final conference report is filed, so make sure to check back for updates.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper invites you to the Western Governors' Association 2014 Annual Meeting, June 9-11 at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Learn more and register.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Fish & Wildlife Service seeks to delay Gunnison sage-grouse ruling until November

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Sept. 16: The Denver Post reports on the wide-ranging, cooperative effort in Colorado to keep the Gunnison sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species. It also notes the concerns of residents that it still won't be enough when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes its decision on the bird's status Nov. 12.

As a member of the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners told the paper: "If you voluntarily alter how you work your land and that's not enough, it sends a clear shot across the bow. It says, 'Why put in the effort, why put in the money, why tax your resources? Because in the end it will never be enough.' " Read the story.

 

Read and download the formal court motion to extend the deadline.

March 6: The final decision to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species appears to have been pushed back to November.

E&E News reported todayGunnsion Sage Grouse (May 6) that "The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is asking a federal court for a six-month delay in making a final determination whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species." Read the story (subscription required)

The current deadline for the decision on the Gunnison sage-grouse, whose range includes Colorado and Utah, is Monday, May 12. If the extension is approved by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, the ruling would move to Nov. 12.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter on April 28 to FWS Director Dan Ashe requesting an extension of the deadline, in part because "the counties that would be impacted by the listing in Colorado have worked diligently to conserve habitat and to demonstrate the effectiveness of their efforts to your agency."

U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Congressman Scott Tipton, also sent a letter seeking an extension.

The E&E story notes the "Bureau of Land Management partnered with Colorado

Natural Resources Conservation Service reports $350 million has been invested in conservation across 3.8 million acres in 11 states since 2010

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Read and download WGA's letter and the NRCS response.

Media Coverage: Reporter Benjamin Storrow of the Casper Star-Tribune covered the release of the NRCS figures and spoke with Wyoming officials about conservation work in the state (Story). Scott Streater of E&E News wrote about how the numbers bolster arguments by Western Governors that a listing could impede voluntary conservation partnerships with ranchers and other landowners (Story). High Country News associate editor Sarah Gilman wrote about sage-grouse conservation, including the NRCS report. Story.

April 28: Since 2010 more than $350 million has been invested to address threats facing sage-grouse and Western rangelands. Nearly $250 million of that total has come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) via the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), while more than $107 million has come from partners and landowners. 

Sage GrouseThat strategic investment through SGI has allowed the NRCS to partner with 953 ranches to implement conservation on 3.8 million acres across the 11-state range of the sage-grouse. An additional $15 million has been invested via NRCS and partners through the SGI Watershed Action Team.

The NRCS report notes, however, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) recent proposal to list the Bi-State distinct population segment of the greater sage-grouse as "theatened" has dampened participation by landowners in that region straddling Nevada and California.

"Although we experienced significant growth in Bi-State SGI participation in the period of FY 2010 through FY 2013, landowner interest has dropped precipitiously in FY 2014," the NRCS reported in a letter sent to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Chairman of the Western Governors' Association, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (WGA Vice-Chair).

"While several factors likely influence landowner participation, it appears this decline is associated with the FWS proposal to list the bird in the fall of 2013."

The NRCS report is in response to a letter from Western Governors seeking details on SGI's work and the impact of a "threatened" or "endangered" listing for the greater sage-grouse. FWS is expected to release a ruling on greater sage-grouse

WGA News: Montana Business Plan, wildfire vigilance in Arizona, California special session, workforce summits in South Dakota

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The Western Governors' Association monthly roundup of Western news includes updates from Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada and more.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Business Plan: Gov. Steve Bullock released a business plan for Montana, as part of his Main Street Montana Project, emphasizing a trained workforce, responsible development of natural resources, and the nurturing of innovative businesses.

Alaskan RefineriesAlaska Gov Sean ParnellGov. Parnell: Gov. Sean Parnell proposed tax credits worth up to $20 million a year for in-state refineries and a potential reduction in royalty payments. 

Expanded Market for Potatoes: Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that Mexico has published new rules that permit expanded access to the Mexican market for U.S. fresh potatoes. This will allow producers in Colorado to increase potato exports to Mexico.

Rainy Day Fund: Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. called for a special session of the California Legislature to replace the Rainy Day Fund on the November ballot with a dedicated reserve that would allow the state to pay down debts and unfunded liabilities.

Interstate 11: Gov. Brian Sandoval and Gov. Jan Brewer unveiled road signs for the future Interstate 11. The proposed corridor between Las Vegas, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz., would link the two largest adjacent metropolitan areas without an interstate freeway.

ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES

Eradication of the Rhino BeetleGov. Eddie Calvo appointed a task force for the eradication of

Case Study: How BLM used state wildlife data maps to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in Utah

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READ, DOWNLOAD THE UTAH CASE STUDY

More than 100 mule deer were being lost annually to wildlife-vehicle collisions along a stretch of southern Utah highway.

Utah Case StudyThe deer were a part of the Paunsaugunt mule deer herd, which summers at high elevations on Utah’s Paunsaugunt Plateau and winters in northern Arizona. Each year during spring and fall migrations the herd crosses U.S. Highway 89 east of Kanab in Kane County, Utah.

In addition to the loss of life for deer and threat to human safety, vehicle-deer collisions cause an average of more than $8,000 property damage for each occurrence, according to estimates from the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.

All those outcomes prompted the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Department of Transportation to work with local and federal officials, including the Bureau of Land Management, to find solutions to the problem.

The planning and subsequent work completed along the highway is documented in a new case study by the Western Governors’ Association highlighting ways that the BLM utilizes state wildlife data maps such as Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools. This case study is produced with support from the Hewlett Foundation.

Read and download the entire report to learn about the project, which officials estimate will prevent  a minimum of 102 accidents each year.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

WGA testimony before House Appropriations Subcommittee addresses PILT, Secure Rural Schools, reimbursement for opening national parks

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 Read and Download WGA's Testimony

Western Governors recognize that federal agencies have rich potential to supplement state efforts -- or impinge on state authority. So it is critical that state and federal agencies develop and maintain positive and cooperative working relationships.  

That's why Western Governors' Association Executive Director Jim Ogsbury jumped at the chance to testify on Thursday (April 10) before the House Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

Noting that "Western Governors believe that such cooperation is only possible when states are NPS New Logoregarded as full and equal partners of the federal government in the development and execution of programs for which both have responsibility," Ogsbury's testimony touched on a number of "requests and recommendations that call for greater recognition of state authority and better utilization of state capabilities by the federal government." They included:

Enactment and full funding of a permanent and stable mechanism for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. Similarly, continued funding of the Secure Rural Schools program.

States should be compensated for the costs they incurred when they shouldering a federal obligation by keeping national parks open during last year’s government shutdown.

States should be equal partners in implementation of the Endangered Species Act and participate in: pre-listing and post-listing ESA decisions; the establishment of quantifiable species recovery goals, and in the design and implementation of recovery plans.

Learn more about WGA's testimony by using the link below to read and download the document.

Download WGA's testimony

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Western Governors support Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project for BLM lands

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Read our Letter on Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project

BLM LogoWestern Governors always support more efficient ways to get things done, especially when it comes to federal permitting.

The Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project was launched by then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The project established seven regional Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices as Pilot Project offices for a period of 10 years. The Western states where these offices are located process the vast majority of the applications for permit to drill (APD) filed with the BLM.

Through the Pilot Project, these offices receive a portion of rental fees paid by oil and gas companies in connection with their leases on BLM land. The offices then use the additional funding to add staff and other resources to increase office efficiency and streamline processing of APDs.

Since then demand for natural gas has increased dramatically, so streamlined regulatory permitting processes are ever more important. However, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 dictates that the Pilot Project’s 10-year term will expire in 2015.

Given its success, Western Governors support reauthorization of the Pilot Project. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, WGA Chairman, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, WGA Vice Chair, recently shared that support with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.

Read our Letter on Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Quarterly Outlook: Drought to persist into the summer for California, Southern Great Plains, Southwest

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Outlook for March 2014Download Quarterly Outlook

Media: Reporter Amy Joi-O'Donoghue of the Deseret News reported on Utah's outlook and WGA's efforts to help western states manage drought. Story.

Update, May 5: Californians are taxing their groundwater reserves like never before, according to a state assessment released Wednesday. Read the story by Brett Walton of Circle of Blue.

April 28: California Gov. Jerry Brown has issued a second emergency drought proclamation. Learn more. 

April 3: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein reintroduced a bill to deal with the state's historic drought with a broader focus and a new, bipartisan lineup of co-sponsors. E&E News story.

April 1: Current drought conditions range from “severe” to “exceptional” in the Southern Great Plains, Nevada and California. Those conditions will persist into summer, according to the most recent Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook, and may result in below-average reservoir storage and above-average wildfire potential.

FWS lists Lesser Prairie-Chicken as 'threatened," but Western Governors vow to continue conservation efforts

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Media Coverage: A story by Phil Taylor of E&E Daily reported on the ruling and reaction from federal and state officials, including WGA Chairman, Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper. Story. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback told The Kansas Ag Connection the ruling was an "overreach." Story.

Update, April 3: Kansas has joined an Oklahoma-led lawsuit challenging the process by which a federal agency decided to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. Story.

March 27, 2014: Western Governors expressed disappointment at today's (March 27) decision by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the lesser prairie-chicken as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but vowed to keep working on its conservation.

Lesser Prairie ChickenIn part, FWS wrote: "In response to the rapid and severe decline of the lesser prairie-chicken, (FWS) today announced the final listing of the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) ... a 'threatened' listing allows for more flexibility in how the Act’s protections are implemented."

In this instance, that "flexibility" is represented by FWS issuing a "special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that will limit regulatory impacts on landowners and businesses from this listing." The special rule acknowledges the "significant and ongoing efforts of states and landowners to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken" and will "allow the five range states to continue to manage conservation efforts for the species and avoid further regulation of activities such as oil and gas development and utility line maintenance that are covered under the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) range-wide conservation plan."

Register now for Western Governors' Annual Meeting June 9-11 in Colorado Springs

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Broadmoor Resort Annual MeetingThe Broadmoor offers many amenities, from golf to an expansive spa, in a spectacular setting. (Photo courtesy of The Broadmoor)

The WGA Annual Meeting was held June 9-11 in Colorado Springs. 

Read recaps of DAY 1, DAY 2 and DAY 3 of the meeting.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, have committed to attend and speak at the Western Governors' Association Annual Meeting June 9-11 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

McCarthy will join nine Western Governors and several other high-ranking officials from the Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service and NOAA at the event.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, WGA Chairman, will host his fellow governors and guests for three days of conversation on vital issues facing the West. Sessions will include "Water in a Changing West," "The Future of Energy" and "Managing Inter-related Challenges of Wildfire, ESA and Invasive Species." There also will be plenty of time for networking and recreation. (See a working agenda.)

Nine other Western Governors have confirmed they will attend: Arizona's Jan Brewer, Idaho's Butch Otter, Kansas's Sam Brownback, Montana’s Steve Bullock, Nevada's Brian Sandoval, North Dakota's Jack Dalrymple, South Dakota's Dennis Daugaard, Utah's Gary Herbert and Wyoming's Matt Mead. British Columbia Premier Christy Clark also will be on hand.

Other confirmed attendees include: Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary, Department of the Interior; Jo Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works); Jim Hubbard, Deputy Chief, U.S. Forest Service; Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and NOAA Administrator, and Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President, Export-Import Bank of the U.S.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at approximately 1 p.m. MT on Monday, June 9, and conclude by noon MT on Wednesday, June 11. Register now.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Western Governors express concern over proposed rule on Clean Water Act

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Download WGA letter on proposed rule for Clean Water Act

Download Western State Water Council letter on proposed rule

Read EPA's proposed rule in the Federal Register

Media Coverage: Philip Brasher of CQ Roll Call reported on July 18, 2014, that the "Obama administration has quickly shifted from the offense to the defense on its proposals to define the reach of the Clean Water Act." In particular, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the interpretive rule that spells out agricultural exemptions from the law’s permitting requirements has "created bonafide confusion." Read more (subscription).

E&E News reporter Annie Snider wrote about Western Governors' concern that they had not been sufficient consulted (Story). Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan of the Kitsap (Wash.) Sun also wrote about the governors' take on the rule (Story).

March 25, 2014: Western Governors today expressed concern to the Environmental Protection Agency and EPA LogoU.S. Army Corps of Engineers that a proposed rule clarifying protections under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands was developed without sufficient consultation with states and could impinge on state authority.

The concerns were delivered to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), in a letter signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (Western Governors' Association Chairman) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (WGA Vice Chairman).

Western Governors assert that "as co-regulators of water resources, states should be fully consulted and engaged in any process that may affect the management of their waters." However, "the conversations to date have not been sufficiently detailed to constitute substantive consultation" and that "Western Governors strongly urge both EPA and the Corps to engage states as authentic partners in the management of Western waters." (Download WGA's letter)

The Western States Water Council, in a separate letter on the proposed rule, also notes that "the western states continue to have concerns about EPA’s and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ coordination efforts, and request extensive interaction with the individual states and the state agencies that deliver and implement the CWA."

Read the Waters of the United States Proposed Rule.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

New WGA Sage-Grouse Inventory details conservation work in 11 Western states

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Sage GrouseRead and Download a PDF of Sage-Grouse Inventory

Read and download a PDF of Sage-Grouse Appendix

Media coverageAmy Joi O'Donoghue of the Deseret News noted Utah's $9 million investment in sage-grouse habitat improvement during 2013 and reported on other efforts by Western states. Read the story. Benjamin Storrow of the Casper Star-Tribune reported on the $7.9 million spent by Wyoming to create the Game and Fish sage grouse program, among other work, in 2013. Story. The Sage Grouse Initiative, which works to conserve sage-grouse across 11 western states, also shared the report.

March 19, 2014: Conservation of the greater sage-grouse and its habitat has been a top priority in 11 Western states for several years. That work took on heightened importance when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2010 listed the greater sage-grouse as “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act.

Western Governors and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar formed the State-Federal Sage-Grouse Task Force in 2012 to implement the conservation actions necessary to preclude the need for fully listing the sage-grouse. If fully listed, the economic impacts to states with sage-grouse habitat could be significant.

Since then Western states, through the Western Governors' Association (WGA) and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), have worked collaboratively to address challenges facing sage-grouse and their habitat.

At the Governors’ request WGA and WAFWA created the first annual Sage-Grouse Inventory in 2011 to illustrate to FWS and the public how states and counties were taking proactive, voluntary steps to preclude the need to put the greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse on the federal endangered species list.

WGA just published the third annual Sage-Grouse Inventory, which highlights new sage-grouse conservation activities in 2013, along with the Sage-Grouse Appendix, which contains all initiatives reported by the relevant states and counties between 2011 and 2013.

As the letter that accompanied the reports delivered to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell noted: “The new reports abundantly illustrate the many ways that states and counties are taking proactive, voluntary steps to conserve the species – steps which are consistent with the Conservation Objectives Team report, and other conservation requirements, issued by the Service. Reading them is a reminder that these steps preclude the need to include the greater sage-grouse on the federal endangered species list.” (Read the entire letter.)

The information about gunnison sage-grouse conservation is particularly timely as the FWS is expected to rule on May 12. The ruling on greater sage-grouse is expected in 2015.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter and Facebook.

Executive Director's Notebook: WGA works on issues vital to sportsmen, conservation

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By Jim Ogsbury

North American Wildlife ConferenceThe 79th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, sponsored by the Wildlife Management Institute, took place this week in Denver, minutes away from WGA’s headquarters. The conference, the largest of its kind, attracts sportsmen’s groups of all stripes, including industry leaders dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and management of North America's wildlife and other natural resources. 

It was an honor to address the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) in conjunction with the conference. AWCP is composed of the chief executives of many of America’s most active sportsmen’s and conservation organizations. Although I am sure they would have rather been outdoors fishing or hunting, more than 40 CEOs took the time to hear about the work that Western Governors are doing with respect to issues that are vital to sportsmen and conservation.

WGA News: Reelection bids, internet gaming, water plans and education initiatives

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The Western Governors' Association monthly roundup of Western news includes updates from Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada and more.

Western Governors have been delivering State of the State speeches as their legislatures open new sessions. Here's where to find all 15 recently-delivered speeches.

Gov SandovalGov. Brian SandovalRE-ELECTION DECISIONS

Gov. Jerry Brown announced his bid for reelection in California on Feb. 27 via Twitter. Read more

Gov. Brian Sandoval filed his papers for reelection in Nevada on March 7. Read more.

Gov. Matt Mead announced his intention to seek a second term in Wyoming on March 11. Read more.

Gov. Jan Brewer, after deciding not to legally challenge Arizona term limits for governors, announced on March 13 that she would not be seeking re-election. Read more.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Gov. Matt Mead signed a joint resolution that supports Taiwan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and recognizes the importance of the relationship between Taiwan and the State of Wyoming.

Agreement between California and Israel: Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister