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News 2014

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 

Western Governors' Association wins Regional Energy Advocate Award

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Energy AwardFrom left: NuScale Chief Operating Officer Chris Colbert, Western Governors' Association Policy Advisor Chris Scolari, Idaho Falls Power General Manager Jackie Flowers, NuScale Chief Technology Officer Dr. Jose Reyes, and NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Mike McGough after the event.The Western Governors' Association has received the Regional Energy Advocate Award for leadership in advancing nuclear energy as a resource and supporting development of new nuclear technology, specifically small modular reactors.

WGA was presented the award at the sixth annual Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) Energy Advocate Awards banquet in Idaho Falls, Idaho. WGA Policy Advisor Chris Scolari accepted the award on behalf of WGA and its Executive Director Jim Ogsbury.

In his remarks, Scolari said: "Western states are America’s energy breadbasket and play a key role in keeping the country’s economic engine humming. Over the years Western Governors have worked collaboratively, through WGA, to forge policies that guide energy development and use, which in turn promote economic growth and environmental protection. WGA’s work to promote use of small modular nuclear reactors in the West is a perfect example of that collaboration.”

Dr. Jose ReyesNuScale Power Chief Technology Officer, was presented the 2013 Nuclear Energy Advocate Award at the event. Reyes is a co-founder of NuScale and designer of its passively-cooled small nuclear reactor. In December NuScale was selected as the winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s competitively-bid, cost-sharing program to develop nuclear Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology. 

To learn more about the Western Governors' Association leadership efforts in the energy field, read and download our recent reports: 10-Year Energy VisionState of Energy in the West and Energy Perspectives.

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

Executive Director's Notebook: Western Governors storm Washington, D.C.

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2014 Western Governors in DCFrom left: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Northern Mariana Islands Governor Eloy Inos. (Photo courtesy of EPA/Eric Vance)

By Jim Ogsbury

Anyone who paid attention to last weekend’s Winter Meeting of the National Governors Association learned what we at Western Governors' Association have known all along: Western Governors are leading the way. On a week when the Washington Post ranked six Western Governors among the nation’s seven best, one of those, Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, ably presided over the proceedings in her capacity as NGA chair. She was assisted by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, NGA’s vice chair and current chair of WGA.

While others slept, these two tireless leaders were joined by nine other Western Governors for a WGA breakfast meeting at EPA headquarters at 7 a.m. on Sunday with four cabinet secretaries -- Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ernest Moniz of Energy, Tom Vilsack of Agriculture and Sally Jewell of Interior --and other high-ranking federal officials. The Governors pressed the Administration on regional priorities, including the efficacy of state efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse and the need for more effective drought mitigation and wildfire funding mechanisms.

Because they weren’t quite busy enough, Gov. Hickenlooper and Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota rose early the next day to educate

Western Governors urge support of "fire-borrowing" bill proposed in Senate, House

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prescribed-fireWestern Governors want land management to continue even when wildfire suppression costs soar.

UPDATE (May 1): A report prepared by the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior projects the agencies will spend $470 million more than is available to fight wildfires this season. Report 

April 3: House appropriators urged Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to press Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the Obama administration's proposal to use emergency funds for wildfire suppression. E&E News story.

March 18: Lawmakers from Oregon and Idaho on Monday joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to tout a bipartisan effort to change how the nation pays for wildfire suppression costs, by tapping disaster funds instead of draining fire-prevention accounts when fires get too big. Read more.

March 4: E&E News reports that the Obama administration fiscal 2015 budget request would allow a 19% increase in logging sales and significantly boost efforts to thin overstocked forests. Reporter Phil Taylor also writes that the budget would shift at least 30% of wildfire suppression funding to an off-budget emergency account, which aims to prevent the agency from dipping into nonfire discretionary programs to quell blazes. Read E&E.

FEB. 26, 2014: It takes more than smoke-jumpers to battle wildfires.

That's why the Western Governors' Association (WGA) urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last year to improve management of deteriorating federal forest lands throughout the West. (Read our letter)

Since then another deadly wildfire season has swept the West. And just like previous seasons, the high cost to battle the fires forced federal land management agencies to transfer funds from other programs, such as hazardous fuel reduction and restoration projects, to pay for wildfire suppression.

So Western Governors have stepped up again, this week urging support for Congressional efforts to end the so-called “fire borrowing” practice to fund wildfire suppression employed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. 

Specifically, WGA said in its letter delivered Feb. 24: "We welcome legislation

California a reminder the Western region is battling drought

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Drought Monitor February 2014

 

UPDATE, Feb. 27: E&E News reports that the swath of Central California experiencing the worst drought conditions expanded this week, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor

Feb. 20: The drumbeat of news about drought in California has been growing since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in the state on Jan. 17.

Since then reports have discussed cities that might run out of drinking water, the impact on agriculture in the state and various water-saving measures suggested by public and private entities.

On Wednesday (Feb. 19), Gov. Brown announced a $687 million drought-relief package that is designed to help residents, farmers and communities cope with a water shortage that is considered one of the worst in state history. The governor has also expressed support for the "California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014," introduced in the Senate and House.

Regional observers know that years-long drought also continues for West Texas, Southeastern Colorado and much of New Mexico, among other locations. Drought contributes to forest and rangeland fires, degrades growing conditions for farmers, and poses threats to municipal and industrial water supplies.

That's why Western Governors worked so hard on the recent reauthorization of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). It continues the work of the U.S. Drought Portal, which provides early warning about emerging and anticipated droughts, as well as how to plan for and manage the impacts of droughts.

Just this week U.S. Drought Monitor noted that Southern California missed out on the precipitation while unseasonably warm weather persisted, causing the two worst categories of drought to extend in the San Diego area and Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

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

 

Executive Director's Notebook: Talking with Gov. Brewer about PILT, Politics and Pigskin

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By Jim Ogsbury

There is no place like central Arizona on a sunny day in February.  Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training. Golfers indulge their passion in picturesque desert landscapes. Bright warm days and clear cool nights contribute to a palpably cheerful community atmosphere.

Super Bowl Governor BrewerGov. Jan Brewer with the commemorative helmet given to her at the NFL "Hand Off Ceremony." (Photo courtesy of the NFL)When I visited Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week at the State Capitol in Phoenix (by far the nation’s largest capital city) her disposition was as bright as the Arizona sun. Our digressive and dynamic conversation touched on many topics, including: 

the need for permanent funding of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program;

local and national politics;

the growing influence of the Western Governors’ Association. 

One subject in particular, however, excited the Governor like no other.  

When I mentioned football, she nearly leapt from her seat to retrieve something she received during Super Bowl XLVIII festivities in New York. She returned with a commemorative football helmet presented to her during the “Hand Off Ceremony” prior to the big game.

The event marked the transition of Super Bowl organizational responsibilities to the game’s next host. Super Bowl XLIX will be played on Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Arizona.

It’s encouraging that the Super Bowl is returning to the West, where it belongs. Blue skies and Western hospitality will greet those who make the pilgrimage to football’s biggest game next year.

For Broncos fans here in Denver, next season can’t arrive soon enough. I can’t help but think that if the team had moved as fast as Governor Brewer did to get that helmet, the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII may have been somewhat different. 

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 urge federal cooperation on invasive species plan

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Western Governors recognize that invasive species are one of the most complex environmental issues facing our nation, creating economic and ecological damage across western landscapes and the Pacific Islands.

Invasive Species CouncilOn behalf of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), Executive Director Jim Ogsbury expressed this concern today (Feb. 18) to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Specifically, the governors want to work with the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) to develop and implement a new National Invasive Species Management Plan.

NISC was created to provide high-level coordination of federal invasive species actions, as well as promote coordination with states and local entities to address cross-boundary invasive species concerns.

Western Governors understand that a new NISC Management Plan is being drafted, so WGA "strongly urges" NISC to engage and cooperate with states to "ensure that federal priorities and actions align with the efforts of states, localities, nonprofit entities and other stakeholders."

Download our letter and Resolution 13-02: Combating Invasive Species.

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

WGA News: Drones in Nevada, pipeline in Alaska, sage-grouse in Colorado and more

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The Western Governors' Association monthly roundup of Western news includes updates from Hawaii, Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oregon, New Mexico, 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 14 recently-delivered speeches.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Land Grant Endowment TrustGov Otter: Gov. Butch Otter (right) announced the appointment of a six-member working group to study ways to strengthen investment decisions related to Idaho state's land grant endowment trust.

Improved Rail Service Sought: Gov. Jack Dalrymple told Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway officials they need to make major improvements in their service to North Dakota’s grain elevators, mills and to shippers of other goods, including coal and sugar.

Drone Testing Program: The Nevada program management office briefed Gov. Brian Sandoval and his Economic Development team on details of the Nevada drone testing program taking flight by May.  It is expected to be an $11 billion-a-year industry.

ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES

Building an Alaska gasline: Gov. Sean Parnell submitted legislation to  advance the Alaska liquefied natural gas project. The bill comes after a commercial agreement

Western Governors salute House, Senate reauthorization of NIDIS to battle drought

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NIDISUPDATE, March 6: President Obama has signed the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 into law. Read the final legislation and read a story in the influential water blog Circle of Blue that notes WGA's support.

Feb. 10, 2014: The reauthorization of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) passed the House on a 365-21 vote on Monday, Feb. 10. The bill previously passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Feb. 3. The chambers now will reconcile the final budget, which the House approved at $13.5 million and the Senate at $12 million.

The votes are an important victory for Western Governors, who are well-acquainted with drought's impact on the West. It contributes to forest and rangeland fires, degrades growing conditions for farmers, and poses threats to municipal and industrial water supplies.

The Western Governors' Association (WGA) promoted the creation of NIDIS in 2006, and WGA has since worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners to champion the system’s deployment. That includes the creation of the U.S. Drought Portal, which provides early warning about emerging and anticipated droughts, as well as how to plan for and manage the impacts of droughts.

And while California’s most intense drought on record captures headlines across the nation, years-long drought continues for West Texas, Southeastern Colorado, and much of New Mexico.

"NIDIS provides the kind of authoritative, objective and timely drought information that farmers, water managers, decision-makers, and local governments require to prepare for and respond to drought,"  said Jim Ogsbury, Executive Director of WGA.

As bills to reauthorize NIDIS circulated in Congress over the past several months, WGA provided written testimony to the Senate, a letter to House sponsors, and a letter to Senate sponsors in support of the legislation. (Read our letter.)

Prior to the House vote, Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas noted WGA's efforts on the House floor, saying: "The concept of creating a national drought monitoring and information system was proposed by the Commission in its 2000 report and promoted by various stakeholders, including the Western Governors' Association." (Read the Congressional Record).

Check back for updates on the progress of this important reauthorization.

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