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Executive Director's Notebook: Gov. Otter's trail ride turns Idaho high country into breathtaking classroom

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By Jim Ogsbury

ED Notebook JimOgsbury Governor Butch OtterGov. Otter insisted on sharing a shirt with me to ensure a comfortable trail rideSince his days in Congress, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has assembled federal agency officials, ranchers, other public and private stakeholders, and opinion leaders for an annual trail ride deep into the heart of the Gem State. A principal purpose of this yearly horseback excursion is to conduct an on-the-ground examination of public land and resource management issues. Governor Otter presented a video documenting the ride at WGA’s 2015 Winter Meeting in Las Vegas. Captivated by the imagery of cowboys saddling up and riding off into the wilderness, I wanted to be part of it.

My artless efforts to secure an invitation paid off when I was asked to join the governor and his posse for the recent 2016 ride in the Copper Basin, a remote and breathtakingly scenic high-elevation basin in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Educational, thrilling and richly rewarding, the ride was the experience of a lifetime.

As someone who looks at land management issues mostly through a policy lens, the opportunity to actually be on public land with experts and decision-makers was invaluable. Instead of sitting around a conference table, talking about about the measurement of forage, we saw and addressed it from the back of a horse. Rather than reading about sage-grouse leks in a Resource Management Plan, we rode by high-value sagebrush habitat, ringed by pine forests in sight of some of the most majestic mountain ranges in the West.

ED Notebook Gov Otter Fixing Flat TireGov. Otter, left, illustrated his hands-on style by helping fix my flat.I learned a great deal from the ride and the detailed conversations that followed. I also received confirmation of something I already knew: that Governor Otter is a tireless and hands-on leader not just at the State Capitol in Boise, but in life. Enjoying the company of the Governor and his wife Lori for two days in the wilderness, I was struck by how the Governor is always on the move, identifying challenges and solving problems. When he learned that my rental car had a flat tire, he personally led the charge to change the tire and get it fixed. When he saw the dark short-sleeved shirt I planned to wear on the ride, he gave me one of his own lighter long-sleeved shirts (not, he insisted, to make it easier to find me in the brush, but because it was much more comfortable).

Governor Otter and I discussed exporting this event to other Western states, and I am eager to work with Governors who may be interested in hosting similar tours. In the meantime, I look forward to joining Governor Otter and his team on next year’s ride. Among other things, I’ll know to bring a more appropriate shirt and a car with better tires.

Jim Ogsbury is the Executive Director of the Western Governors' Association. Contact him at 303-623-9378 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.