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Western News: California's devastating mudslide, Idaho's shrinking rural communities, making Colorado's Gold King Mine a 'teachable moment'

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The Western Governors' Association offers a monthly roundup that showcases the latest policy, progress and news from Western states. Here is this month's report:

  • californiamudslideCalifornia mudslideMudslide damage: Learn more about the recent California landslide that trapped 200 vehicles.
  • Outdoor education: See the different ways Colorado schools are using the Gold King Mine spill as a teachable moment.
  • Spill Plan: State officials in New Mexico have released a draft plan to monitor the potential long-term effects of the Gold King Mine spill.
  • Urban sprawl: See why a new study has some concerned about (More)

First workshop of WGA Species Conservation and ESA Initiative will be Nov. 12-13 in Wyoming

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Gov Mead SpeakingGov. Mead

The first workshop of the Western Governors' Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative was held Nov. 12-13 at the Buffalo Bill Center for the West in Cody, Wyo.

The Chairman's Initiative of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead creates a mechanism for states that will: share best practices in species management; promote and elevate the role of states in species conservation efforts, and explore ways to improve the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Gov. Mead spoke at the first workshop, which featured a robust and bipartisan conversation regarding species conservation and the ESA. (Watch videos of all sessions)

WGA announces new policy advisor for water and agriculture

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lauraThe Western Governors' Association is pleased to announce the hiring of Laura Chartrand as Policy Advisor for Water and Agriculture.

Laura comes to WGA from the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, where she analyzed water resource issues affecting Tri-State’s 44 member cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. She holds a law degree from the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and has worked as an attorney covering a broad scope of issues, including water, public lands and endangered species. (Learn more about Laura)

EPA tightens national ozone standard, governors concerned about non-attainment due to outside factors

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epaThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Oct. 1 released a new standard for the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone, cutting the 2008 standard of 75 parts-per-billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.

Western Governors recognize EPA’s statutory responsibility to research and propose revisions to the ozone NAAQS to provide requisite protection of public health and welfare with an adequate margin of safety, but the Governors are concerned about what the revised ozone NAAQS may mean for their citizens.

Western Governors previously sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing western states' need for the EPA to provide states with timely implementation guidance and sufficient financial and technical assistance.

The revised NAAQS for ozone will mean that areas in the West will be found in non-attainment status, some of them as a result

E&E TV interviews North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple, Wyoming Gov. Mead on Clean Power Plan

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The Western Governors' Association policy mission to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29-30 helped raise the profile of several significant western policy issues.

WGA Chairman and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was joined by Governors Steve Bullock (Montana, WGA Vice Chair), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), and Gary Herbert (Utah) to engage with Congressional leaders at a briefing on Endangered Species Act reform before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife and a hearing on state authority before the House Natural Resources Committee. See a recap of Day 1 and Day 2 of their visit.

The governors also took time to speak with media, including these two interviews on E&E TV.

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E&E TV's OnPoint featured an interview with Gov. Dalrymple, during which he discusses a two-track approach on the Clean Power Plan and the shale oil industry's prospects amid recent price shifts. Watch it here.

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E&E TV's OnPoint also highlighted Gov. Mead and the state of Wyoming. The governor discusses how Wyoming, as a major coal producer, plans to both comply with and litigate the Clean Power Plan and the potential role of natural gas, wind energy and emissions trading. Watch it here.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Western Governors tell House Natural Resources Committee states are the experts on resource management

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Gov Bullock House HearingGov. Steve Bullock (Courtesy House Natural Resources)

Media: The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about the House hearing, as did the Washington Examiner and KSFY TV in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Sept. 30, 2015: Four Western Governors testified before the House Natural Resources Committee at a hearing on Wednesday (Sept. 30), at which they highlighted the importance of recognizing state expertise in relation to resource management and energy development.

Western Governors' Association Chairman and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (WGA Vice Chair), South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert appeared before Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah on the topic, "Respecting State Authority, Responsibilities and Expertise Regarding Resource Management and Energy Development."

Gov Mead at House PanelGov. Matt Mead"We share the belief that solutions developed at the local level -- by the people who live in the state and are impacted the most -- are typically more effective and lasting than those developed by officials who live and work hundreds or thousands of miles away," said Gov. Herbert.

Gov. Bullock also advocated for increased state management over natural resource development. "We’ve aggressively pushed for constructive partnerships and active engagement with the federal government using our authority, expertise and research, and harnessing the incredible capacity of our citizens to work together collaboratively and problem solve.”

"We believe in states' rights," said Gov. Mead, speaking of the respect and collaboration that exists within WGA. "We wish for the federal government to show the same

Western Governors discuss ways to improve the ESA before Senate panel

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MEDIA COVERAGE: The Associated Press reported on the Senate Briefing (Governors: Make species delisting process more predictable) as did the Oil & Gas Journal and Gray TV. USAgnet reported on the Governors' meeting with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Sept. 29, 2015: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock kicked off two days of Capitol Hill appearances by Western Governors today by discussing ways to improve the Endangered Species Act (ESA) before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife.

Bullock Profile with Mead CropGovernors Bullock, right, and Mead The governors appeared before Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska at the briefing, which also included remarks from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Director Dan Ashe. The topic: "Improving the Endangered Species Act: Perspectives from the Fish and Wildlife Service and State Governors."

The briefing was the first of two appearances by Western Governors this week in Washington, D.C., organized by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA). Four Governors will appear on Wednesday, Sept. 30, before the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss “Respecting State Authority, Responsibilities and Expertise Regarding Resource Management and Energy Development.”

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"We value our wildlife. It's part of our quality of life in the West, in many ways it's why we live there," said Gov. Mead, who as WGA Chairman has made improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the ESA his Chairman's Initiative. "But we also value our economy. It's hard to deal with the constant uncertainty caused by the ESA."

Gov. Bullock noted the importance of encouraging the voluntary work so critical to the recent decision not to list the greater sage-grouse. "The question increasingly is 'What more can be done to incent voluntary conservation to keep a species from being listed in the first place?' "

Gov. Mead echoed that sentiment by saying "The greater sage-grouse ruling

Drought Update: USGS examines low river flows, Oregon Gov. Brown declares drought in 25th county

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2015 droughtPhoto Courtesy of USGSHydrologic technicians from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are currently taking measurements from hundreds of streams and rivers across the West as part of a major low-flow study.

The large-scale study will measure stream flow and water temperatures in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington to document the severity of this year's drought.

"This year's warmer, drier weather provides a preview of how future droughts may impact water resources in the study area," said Chris Konrad, USGS hydrologist and study project chief. "The goal is to provide information to resource managers to help understand differences in how streams respond to drought and plan for future drought impacts throughout the region."

The data will be compiled and analyzed with a summary report of findings planned for publication in late 2016. Learn more

The Western Governors' Drought Forum is the Chairman's Initiative of 

Enhanced oil recovery project launched in Wyoming

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Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is the practice  of injecting carbon dioxide obtained from natural and man-made sources into existing oil fields where production has slowed to free up additional crude trapped in rock formations.

This carbon dioxide “flooding” can result in the recovery of about 20 percent of the original oil in place and provides a way to sequester carbon dioxide.

Western Governors support the EOR extraction method for the economic and environmental benefits it offers the West. The Governors' policy resolution, Enhanced Oil Recovery, supports polices and incentives that advance investment in EOR projects, infrastructure, technology and research.

Western Governors’ Association (WGA) Executive Director Jim Ogsbury joined WGA Chairman and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Sept. 23 at a groundbreaking ceremony

Western Governors head to Washington, D.C., for House hearing on state authority, Senate briefing on ESA

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smilesflagGov. Mead and Gov. BullockWestern Governors will visit Washington, D.C., the week of Sept. 28 to engage with Congressional leaders on critical issues and policy affecting the West, including state authority and the Endangered Species Act.

Western Governors' Association Chairman and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead will be joined by Governors Steve Bullock (Montana, WGA Vice Chair), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), and Gary Herbert (Utah) at a number of meetings with leadership, as well as these appearances:

Governors' Briefing with Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife: Governors Mead and Bullock will appear at a briefing on the topic "Improving the Endangered Species Act: Perspectives from the Fish and Wildlife Service and State Governors." In addition to the governors' remarks on ESA, which is the focus

Interior announces it will not list greater sage-grouse under ESA

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jewellcropSecretary JewellInterior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today that the greater sage-grouse will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The finding of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concludes a process that began in 2011, when the service agreed to reach a decision to determine whether the bird was entitled to protections under the ESA by Sept. 30, 2015.

Concerted conservation efforts have been undertaken by Western Governors since 2010 across the western states where the bird lives -- California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In all, its range stretches across 257,000 square miles, including two Canadian provinces.

The decision does not conclude conservation efforts. States now must work with the BLM and FWS on the federal agencies’ greater sage-grouse management plans. Western Governors have submitted Consistency Reviews to BLM and U.S. Forest Service on the federal agencies’ greater sage-grouse proposed management plans.

In their comments the governors identify inconsistencies between federal plans and state and local government plans, policies or programs. They also recommend

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issues Executive Order for sage-grouse conservation, Colorado Habitat Exchange also launched

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Oregon Gov Kate BrownWestern Governors today continued their unprecedented conservation work to protect the greater sage-grouse with two major announcements. 

  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has issued an executive order that adopts the Oregon Sage Grouse Action Plan and directs all state agencies to carry out the conservation actions in the plan to protect the bird and its habitat in a manner that promotes economic prosperity and a healthy environment.
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in partnership with conservation groups, industry representatives, and agriculture leaders, requested recognition by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to establish the Colorado Habitat Exchange – initially focused on the greater sage-grouse.

"At a critical time in federal decision-making under the Endangered Species Act, our Plan and my Executive Order advance increased coordination, commitment, and investment in a strong state-based approach to the threats and opportunities facing sage-grouse as well as rural community health," wrote Gov. Brown in a letter to the Oregon Sage Grouse Conservation Partnership. "There has never before been anything

New Mexico Gov. Martinez unveils "all-of-the-above" state energy plan

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nmenergyNew Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has created a sweeping new state energy policy, Seizing our Energy Potential: Creating a More Diverse Economy in New Mexico. The plan calls for an “all of the above” approach to energy that promotes the production of all sources of energy as a means of creating jobs, diversifying a key sector of the economy, and supporting the nation's efforts to achieve energy independence.

“Improving our energy infrastructure, responsibly developing and producing energy of all types, and better preparing our workforce for the needs of our energy sector are all critical components not only of a strong economic future, but of helping lead America to energy independence,” said Gov. Martinez in a press release. (Read a story about the new energy plan in the Albuquerque Journal.)

New Mexico’s 2015 Energy Policy and Implementation Plan is the first comprehensive energy policy

Western Governors highlighted for pragmatism, bipartisan collaboration by Governing magazine

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bill walker alaskaAlaska Gov. Walker Governing magazine has recognized the collaborative, bipartisan policy work of Western Governors by including five of them in its list of 6 Governors Who Choose Pragmatism Over Ideology.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert were featured as prime examples of political leaders who focus on bipartisan collaboration. The story spotlights initiatives by each governor that illustrate their commitment to pragmatism and doing what's best for the citizens they represent. See the full article here.

Gov. Sandoval was also highlighted in the prestigious Politico 50 List, Politico magazine's guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics. Politico praised Gov. Sandoval's "New Nevada" push which has included courting big job creators like Tesla, drastically improving

California drought report reveals statewide cost of $2.7 billion, loss of 21,000 agricultural jobs

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A new study revealsucdavis watershed that California's historic drought will cost the state $2.74 billion in 2015 and result in the loss of more than 21,000 jobs. 

The findings from the University of California Davis Center for Watershed Sciences also include:

  • The drought in 2015 will result in a 8.7 million acre-foot reduction in surface water available to agriculture.
  • This surface water loss will be partially replaced by increasing groundwater pumping by 6 million acre-feet, at a cost of $590 million.
  • The resulting net water shortage of 2.7 million acre-feet will cause losses of $900 million in crop revenue and $350 million in dairy and other livestock value.
  • Direct costs to agriculture total $1.84 billion.
  • The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.74 billion, with a total loss of 21,000 seasonal and part-time jobs.

The study notes the state's heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs and

Report highlights how to grow use of state, regional digital wildlife data in transportation planning

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FHWA Report Cover Image September 2015WEBINAR: Learn more by taking part in the Eco-Logical Webinar "Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools and Wildlife Data" at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, Nov. 12. Register.

Digital wildlife information plays an increasingly important role in transportation planning and project implementation. One example is the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) developed by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA). The online tool provides a high-level overview of crucial habitat for project preplanning across 16 Western states.

WGA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in recognition of the growing importance of this information, entered into an agreement in 2013 to identify opportunities to increase the transportation sector’s use of state and regional digital wildlife data.

The result of that collaboration is the report, “Development of Sustainable Strategies Supporting Transportation Planning and Conservation Priorities across the West.” Two highlights of the report:

  • More than 90% of respondents indicated that their agencies consider fish and wildlife in transportation planning and projects, but many were unaware of CHATs.
  • Only 4 of 16 state Departments of Transportation questioned now use the regional CHAT, but 10 identified opportunities to increase its use.

Learn more by reading the Executive Summary and the complete report.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Colorado, California, Texas, Washington home to top cities for economic success

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leadingA study by Area Development to determine which cities are best at creating jobs and nurturing sustainable economic development reports that 8 of the top 10 are in the West — three in Colorado, two each in California and Texas, and one in Washington.

The key categories used in determining city rankings for the Leading Locations 2015 report were prime work force, economic strength, year-over-year growth, and “recession-busting” attributes. 

Denver and Houston were ranked as the best cities for economic success. See the other six western cities to make the top 10 here.

States across the West are making economic progress on a variety of fronts. Here are some highlights:

  • UtahNebraskaOregon and California were ranked among the 10 fastest-growing states for tech jobs.
  • Denver, Colorado, led Forbes' 2015 Best Places for Business and Careers list. Also in the top 10: Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; Seattle, Washington; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Utah and Washington led the country in the latest monthly rankings for total job growth.
  • NebraskaNorth Dakota and Utah again had the lowest unemployment rates in the nation in the latest monthly rankings.
  • Dubbed "Silicon Slopes," Salt Lake City, Utah, was named the number one startup city in the nation by Entrepreneur Magazine.
  • California experienced the highest private-sector gains over the past 12 months; Utah and Nevada had the largest percentage gains in private-sector employment during this period.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Forest Service begins "fire borrowing" to fund dwindling firefighting budget

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IMG 3942Photo: National Interagency Fire CenterThe U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has begun transferring funds to supplement its shrinking firefighting budget through a practice known as “fire borrowing." 

USFS fire suppression activities were funded at $1.01 billion for the 2015 fiscal year; only $174 million remains and the service anticipates funds will be exhausted before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

On Aug. 25, USFS announced that it would shift $250 million from regular service operations to fire suppression activities. That amount includes $30 million from the State and Private Forestry account, which will have a significant impact on its activities with states. 

Western Governors have worked in recent years to fix the problem of "fire borrowing," which occurs when the Forest Service takes funds away from forest health and fire prevention activities to help pay the costs to fight current wildfires.

Ryan Maye Handy of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that for the first time in the Forest Service's 110-year history, firefighting makes up more than 50 percent of the agency's overall budget.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Western Governors' outreach on Clean Air Act, Surface Transportation Board, Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act

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Western Governors demonstrated their commitment to state-federal collaboration in recent outreach to federal agencies on air quality, transportation infrastructure and responsible land management.

Clean Air Act Exceptional Events Ruleepa: Western Governors sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to request that the agency engage in substantive consultation with states in the pre-proposal stages of revisions to the Clean Air Act Exceptional Events Rule. The governors are concerned that the Rule does not adequately address factors over which states have little or no control, such as wildfire, high winds and volcanic activity. (Read, download letter)

Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015: Western Governors sent a letter to leadership in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to request expedited consideration of the Act. The letter cited previous outreach by the Governors that noted the actions of the Surface Transportation Board have significant impact on the economies of all states and called attention to WGA Policy Resolution 2015-05: Transportation Infrastructure in the Western United States. (Read, download letter)

Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act: Western Governors sent a letter to co-sponsors of the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act (H.R. 2358). The letter expressed support for the bipartisan legislation, intended to ensure reliable electricity service and reduce the risk of fires and fire hazards caused by inadequate vegetation management in power line rights-of-way on federally managed public lands. (Read, download letter)

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

Wyoming Gov. Mead launches Western Governors' Endangered Species Act Initiative

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Media coverage: Reporter Laura Hancock of the Casper Star-Tribune wrote a story on the announcement that featured insights from Gov. Mead. K2 Radio's Tom Morton also wrote a piece on the launch that explored the various issues and western frustrations with the ESA. Scott Streater also reported on the initiative for E&E News in a story.

Aug. 26, 2015: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), announced his Chairman’s Initiative: the Western Governors’ Endangered Species Act Initiative.

“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) touches the people and economies of western states in a significant way,” Gov. Mead said at a special event at the Gray Reef Access Area outside of Casper, Wyo.

“This initiative is intended to take a hard look at the ESA – where has it been successful and where are changes needed. This effort will invite participation

Western News: Alaska's mysterious whale deaths, California gray wolf sighting, Utah mega ski resort

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The Western Governors' Association offers a monthly roundup that showcases the latest policy, progress and news from Western states. Here is this month's report:

  • 930724 1 0825 gray wolf pack california.jpg standardCalifornia gray wolf packMarine mortality: Scientists have launched an investigation into the mysterious deaths of 30 large whales in the western Gulf of Alaska.
  • Wolf homecoming: gray wolf pack was spotted in Northern California for the first time in nearly a century.
  • Renewables: Construction has begun on Colorado's largest solar farm, one that backers say will generate enough electricity to power 31,000 homes more cheaply than natural gas-powered sources.
  • Storm watch: Hawaii is preparing for a potential rare hurricane to make landfall this week.
  • Gone fishing: North Dakota reported its third consecutive year of record-high fishing license sales.
  • 0730 bees1 t620Washington beekeeperEnd to hemp: The Oregon Department of Agriculture suspended its industrial hemp program.
  • Giant resort: Two Utah resorts combined into one mega resort, Park City, which is now the largest ski resort in North America with more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain.
  • Farming buzz: A change in Washington's agricultural laws officially designates beekeepers as farmers.
  • Medical advances: The American Heart Association announced that their $7.1 million program significantly reduced heart attack deaths in Wyoming.

Want more state news? Find last month's report here

WGA also offers a monthly look at the work of Western Governors. Here's where to find this month's update.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

EPA releases proposal to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas sector

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EPA LogoThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its proposal to regulate methane emissions, with a goal of cutting emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45% by 2025. The proposal will be published next week in the Federal Register, starting a 60-day public comment period during which the agency will hold a series of public hearings. Read the proposal.

Western Governors have been working on the issue of methane emissions, including approval of the policy resolution Methane Emissions Regulation. It requests that EPA work with states as co-regulators, recognize the work already done by states to substantially reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and recognize the Clean Air Act (CAA) authority states have to manage air quality within their borders. Read, download the resolution.

EPA’s proposal has been promulgated under Section 111(b) of the CAA

Western Governors respond as record-breaking wildfires burn through Forest Service budget, consume sage-grouse habitat

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ID 10 08 07 0320Photo: National Interagency Fire CenterRecord-breaking wildfires continue to rage across the West, destroying homes, forcing evacuations, and exhausting federal firefighting budgets.

The Soda Fire in Idaho is by far the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S. and has consumed 283,000 acres. The majority of the scorched acreage has been key sage-grouse habitat.

The latest report places total burn damage across the West at a record-breaking 7.1 million acres so far this season. The unprecedented size of this season's wildfires is, in part, a product of the extreme drought in the region. Though the number of fires seen this season is roughly 80 percent of average at this time of year over the past decade, total acres burned is almost 45 percent higher than normal. Last week the National Fire Preparedness Level was raised to its highest point, PL-5, for the first time since 2013.

The U.S. Forest Service is spending $100 million a week on the fires, a pace that

Western Governors' feedback helps new National Seed Strategy better restore damaged landscapes

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The newly released National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration 2015-2020 seeks to ensure appropriate seed resources for rehabilitation and restoration of damaged landscapes across the country, including more than 2 million acres of western lands impacted by wildfire since by 2012.

The final strategy reflects a number of changes based on feedback from the Western Governors' Association (WGA) to the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), the public-private partnership chaired by the Bureau of Land Management, which led development

Update on EPA mine spill in Colorado, emergency responses from Gov. Hickenlooper, Gov. Martinez, Gov. Herbert

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Update Aug. 17: Officials have reopened affected sections of the Animas and San Juan rivers. Testing of the contaminated waters in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah found the waters met state and federal standards considered safe for drinking and recreation.

Aug 12: On Aug. 5, 2015, workers employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally triggered a breach at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado. The spill released a plume of more than three million gallons of polluted mine waste water containing potentially harmful contaminants that flowed into the Animas River and continued downstream.

govhickpressGov. Hickenlooper (Durango Herald)Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a disaster emergency following the mine release, allocating $500,000 from the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for the response and technical assessments. 

"Our priority remains to ensure public safety and minimize environmental impacts,” said Gov. Hickenlooper (see press release). “We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez also responded swiftly to the disaster by declaring a state of emergency. “I am heartbroken by this environmental catastrophe,” said Gov. Martinez (see a press release). “We are committed to working

Drought Update: California carrying full year of rain debt, water-saving measures in Oregon

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NASA researchers reported that California has accumulated a "rain debt" equal to an entire year's worth of precipitation from severe drought between 2012 and 2015.

The scientists calculate that the state is roughly 20 inches behind in total precipitation, which is the average amount expected to fall in the state in a single year. The current rain debt is placing extreme pressure on the state's water reserves

WGA’s Ogsbury makes staffing announcements, adds firepower for Western Governors

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Executive Director Jim Ogsbury has announced staffing changes at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) to fortify and advance the association’s bipartisan policy work.

"These promotions and staff additions significantly strengthen the WGA team," said Ogsbury. “We are better positioned than ever to help the Western Governors take collective action on issues of critical importance to the western United States.”

The staffing news includes:

Holly Propst has been named Deputy Director. Holly continues to serve

Western Governors comment on BLM and Forest Service sage-grouse management plans

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Western Governors have submitted Consistency Reviews to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service on the federal agencies’ greater sage-grouse proposed management plans.

In their comments the governors identify inconsistencies between federal plans and state and local government plans, policies or programs. They also recommend solutions for resolving those inconsistencies.

Topics that the governors frequently commented on in their reviews included

Western Governors' News: Water conservation measures in Oregon, Arizona tribal leaders talk policy, Washington invests in transportation

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The Western Governors' Association offers a monthly roundup of news showcasing the work of Western Governors in economic development, natural resources, education, health and safety, and other areas.

ALASKA Gov. Bill Walker declared a state disaster in response to damages caused by ongoing wildfires.

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed his state's tribal leaders for a roundtable

New report shows encouraging trends in Western greater sage-grouse populations

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wafwaUpdate Aug 17: The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a final report today on greater sage-grouse population trends across the Western United States. 

The report was prepared to provide scientific information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in advance of the upcoming Endangered Species Act listing decision on greater sage-grouse, which is expected to be made by the end of Sept. 2015. It summarizes and analyzes the information gathered over the past 50 years from the 11 western states where sage-grouse populations can be found. Find the full report here.

Aug 3: A new report shows that greater sage-grouse population in the West has grown by nearly two-thirds since 2013, a strong reversal after

A graphic look at recreation trends on public lands in the West

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longerAn enlightening new infographic from High Country News breaks down public-lands visitation and recreation in the West. The figures reveal how western recreation trends have changed over the years, looking at factors such as population increases and pop culture influences.

The infographic features a case-study on the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Aspen, Colo., which has seen a 189% increase in overnight visitation since 2006. Visitation statistics for Yellowstone, Denali and Arches National Parks are also given a close look.

Other highlights from the infographic:

  • 14 of the top 50 parks for visitors in 2014 are in the West, led by Lake Mead (ranked 6th, 6.9 million visitors) and the Grand Canyon (ranked 10th, 4.7 million).
  • Backpacking participation is up 43% nationwide since 2006, while RV camping has seen a 14% decline.
  • The number of permits for long-distance hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail increased by more than 750 between 2013 and 2014 -- a change largely attributed to the release of Cheryl Strayed's novel Wild and its popular film adaptation.
  • Registered snowmobiles in the western states have increased by 144% since 1990.

See the full infographic from High Country News here.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Western wildfires in 2015 blaze toward record levels

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635732647331276583 AP California WildfireUpdate Aug. 14: The National Fire Preparedness Level has been raised to its highest point, PL-5, for the first time since 2013. This designation permits further assistance from the military and international resources.

The latest report places the total burn damage across the West at a record-breaking 6.5 million acres so far this season. The unprecedented size and unmanageable nature of this season's wildfires is a product of the extreme drought throughout the region. Though the number of fires seen this season is less than 80 percent of average at this time of year over the past decade, the total number of acres burned is almost 40 percent higher than normal.

The Soda Fire in Idaho is by far the largest wildfire currently burning