Best of the West: Finally a fire borrowing fix, Oklahoma ‘externships’ teach the teachers, electric vehicle corridors improve

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting March 19, 2018, that you don't want to miss.

The spending bill approved by Congress on Friday (March 23, 2018) includes additional funding, long advocated for by Western Governors, to end the practice known as fire borrowing. The bill subsequently was signed by President Trump.

Fire borrowing is a budgetary practice that occurs when federal agencies divert funds from forest health and fire prevention programs to fight wildfires. As wildfires have grown in recent years, the cost of suppressing the blazes has resulted in the use of crippling amounts of the very funds that should instead be used to prevent fires.

The issue has gained broad bipartisan support, especially following the 2017 wildfire season, the costliest on record at more than $2 billion. Western Governors have long worked to end to fire borrowing, including their most recent outreach in January of  2018.

“It’s great to see Congress finally advance an agreement that addresses ‘fire borrowing’ and establishes tools to improve forest management to reduce wildfire risks,” said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. “The provisions follow the bipartisan, common-sense recommendations adopted by the Western Governors’ Association through my Chairman’s Initiative. This is a milestone worth celebrating and demonstrates the collaborative approach of governors in the West.”

​The Associated Press reported that "the plan sets aside $2 billion per year — outside the regular budget — so officials don't have to tap money meant for prevention programs to fight wildfires." The current funding method, which is tied to 10-year averages for wildfire, has proven unworkable as fire seasons have grown longer and larger.

“In Idaho, where balanced budgets are constitutionally required every year, we appreciate the move away from short-term continuing resolutions to more responsible and sustainable budgeting. We also appreciate provisions addressing forest management and the cost of fighting wildfires,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

Workplace Advancement: ‘Pre-apprenticeships’ are emerging as a useful tool to introduce workers to careers in construction, particularly for women, who traditionally have not been represented in the field. In Oklahoma, an ‘externship’ program is placing teachers with STEM companies over the summer, giving them the opportunity to earn additional money while gaining skills for the classroom.

Road Trip: Increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations could boost adoption of EVs in the West, where stations are sometimes hundreds of miles apart. After overcoming “range anxiety,” consider driving the least traveled (and most scenic) routes in the U.S., such as “America’s Loneliest Road” which begins in California and offers scenic views of the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah.

Trails and Tribulations: Illegal trail building is challenging land managers in southwest Colorado, where miles of unofficial trails have been constructed on public lands. Mostly created and used by mountain bikers, the trails have bypassed normal planning processes and can interfere with critical wildlife habitat.

Natural Wonder: The world’s tallest geyser, which can send water and debris three times higher than Old Faithful, erupted in Yellowstone National Park last week. The Steamboat Geyser’s eruptions can reach nearly 400 feet, and last went off in 2014. See a video.

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