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Western News: Raging wildfires, Idaho drone mapping, Colorado health initiative

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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:

  • 201506558ae74e49858California wildfireRaging wildfires: Firefighters are battling fast-moving wildfires across the West, including the 116,067-acre Galena Zone Fires in Alaska, the 31,359-acre Lake Fire in California, the 27,166-acre Corner Creek Fire in Oregon and the 2,950-acre Sleepy Hollow Fire in Washington.
  • Bird conservation: The Idaho Department of Fish and Game released a draft plan to manage Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
  • Colossal news: Paleontologists discovered the first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington.
  • Air quality: Smoke from Canadian wildfires is choking air in the Western U.S., leading to health advisories as far south as Colorado.
  • Company expansion: Uber opened its Center of Excellence in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
  • IMG 1236 webWashington dinosaur fossilAerial mapping: Scientists deployed drones over western Idaho to map landscape as part of an effort to reduce wildfire risks and protect wildlife including sage-grouse.
  • Health advances: Colorado made national headlines for a state health department initiative that lowered teen pregnancy rates by 40% over six years.
  • Business funding: The new equity crowdfunding bill signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey went into effect, allowing small business owners more options for obtaining capital.

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.

Read, download the Western Governors’ Drought Forum report

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Droght Forum Cover ImageThe first year of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum has provided a platform for regional experts to share case studies and best practices on drought policy, preparedness and management.

The Drought Forum, which is the initiative of WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, will continue in the years ahead. Gov. Sandoval recently hosted a meeting of the initiative in Nevada to discuss the most significant themes to emerge during the initiative's first year.

The meeting at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nev., also saw the release of the Western Governors Drought Forum Report. This roadmap to the online resource that collects the work of the Forum is arranged around seven key themes that emerged during the first year of the Forum:

  • Data and Analysis
  • Produced, Reused and Brackish Water
  • Forest Health and Soil Stewardship
  • Water Conservation and Efficiency
  • Infrastructure and Investment
  • Working within Institutional Frameworks to Manage Drought
  • Communication and Collaboration

"Our Drought Forum discussions have shown that westerners are experts at innovating in response to water supply variability," said Gov. Sandoval. "They have also shown the importance of communicating across sectors and state lines to best respond to drought. Western states will continue to thrive, even with the threat of drought, so long as we work together and make the most of the water we have."

Read, download: Western Governors' Drought Forum Report

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

WGA Annual Meeting Recap: Resolutions, drought report, Chairman's Initiative on ESA

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Gov Sandoval DaisWGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian SandovalDrought, transportation, new energy storage options, and sage-grouse conservation were just some of the topics addressed by 10 Western Governors during the Western Governors' Association 2015 Annual Meeting June 24-26 in Incline Village, Nevada.

Western Governors attending the meeting, hosted by WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, included: Bill Walker (Alaska), Doug Ducey (Arizona), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Eddie Calvo (Guam), C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), Steve Bullock (Montana), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Matt Mead (Wyoming).

Annual Meeting Day 1

Jewell CropSecretary JewellWGA Chairman Gov. Brian Sandoval opened the Annual Meeting by releasing the first-year report on his Chairman's Initiative, the Western Governors' Drought Forum, followed by a discussion with drought experts who also offered a report on upcoming conditions.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell delivered a keynote address and then participated in a spirited Q&A with the governors, which touched on sage-grouse conservation. That concluded the day's formal sessions before the Governors participated in a press conference. Day 1 Recap

Annual Meeting Day 2

The Governors elected Wyoming Gov. Mead as their incoming WGA Chairman on the Otter Hick Laugh at Sand HarborGovernors Otter, left, and Hickenlooper share a laugh after the Sand Harbor State Park event.second day of the meeting and approved five policy resolutions on transportation, enhanced oil recovery, agriculture, water resource management and minerals policy.

They also heard a keynote address by Michael Leavitt, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Governor of Utah, and engaged with transportation experts on pressing regional issues.

Later, the meeting moved to nearby Sand Harbor State Park, where Nevada and California officials discussed how collaboration supported environmental and economic success at Lake Tahoe. Day 2 Recap

Annual Meeting Day 3

Gov Matt Mead InitiativeGov. Matt MeadThe final day opened with a discussion of new, utility-scale energy storage featuring representatives from Tesla, Abengoa Solar, Arizona Public Service and NV Energy.

Incoming WGA Chairman Gov. Mead concluded the meeting with a speech about his Chairman's Initiative for the coming year: an examination of the Endangered Species Act.

Gov. Mead said that his focus resulted from the impact that ESA has had on the West and reflects the fact that western states have shown leadership in species conservation and their habitats.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will serve as WGA Vice Chairman in the coming year. Day 3 Recap

Ten GovernorsAttendees at the 2015 WGA Annual Meeting, from left: Bill Walker (Alaska), Butch Otter (Idaho), Doug Ducey (Arizona), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Gary Herbert (Utah), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Steve Bullock (Montana), Eddie Calvo (Guam), Matt Mead (Wyoming).

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

 

WGA Annual Meeting: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead will focus on the Endangered Species Act for 2016 Chairman's Initiative

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Gov Matt Mead InitiativeGov. Matt Mead Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead will focus on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) during his year as Chairman of the Western Governors' Association. Gov. Mead discussed his Chairman's Initiative for 2016 at the final session of the 2015 Annual Meeting in Incline Village, Nev.

Gov. Mead said that his focus was in part a result of the impact that ESA has had on western states for decades and a reflection of the fact that western states have shown leadership in species conservation and their habitats. The bipartisan nature of WGA, he added, allows the Western Governors to be well positioned to lead on the issue.

"This is not a Republican issue, it is not a Democratic issue, it is a western issue," he told the audience during the final day of the Annual Meeting.

Habitat conservation, recovery of species, making the law better -- all of these are efforts that Gov. Mead said would be goals for his chairmanship in the coming year.

The governor concluded by inviting the audience to plan ahead for the June 2016 Annual Meeting in his homteown of Jackson, Wyoming.

Gov. Mead takes the gavel from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has served as WGA Chairman for the past year and made the Western Governor's Drought Forum his Chaiman's Initiative. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will serve as WGA's Vice Chairman.

Utility-Scale Energy Storage: Representatives from Tesla, Abengoa Solar, Arizona Public Service and NVEnergy joined the Governors to discuss the potential of large-scale energy storage for utilities and consumers. Read a story about this lively discussion from E&E News.

2015 Annual Meeting Highlights

Drought Forum Cover

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

WGA Annual Meeting: Transportation, Leavitt keynote, new chairman election fill Day 2

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Leavitt Speech PhotoMichael LeavittWestern Governors approved five policy resolutions, heard a keynote address by Michael Leavitt, engaged with transportation experts on pressing regional issues, and elected the incoming WGA Chairman during day two of the 2015 Annual Meeting in Incline Village, Nev.

After the morning sessions were completed at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, the meeting moved to nearby Sand Harbor State Park for a discussion of how collaboration between California and Nevada has helped preserve and protect Lake Tahoe and the surrounding environment.

Keynote address by Michael O. Leavitt

The former three-term Governor of Utah and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offered an engaging keynote that included his memories of being a governor as well as an overview of the changing healthcare landscape.

  • "Between now and 10years from now we are likely to see Medicaid expand to cover about one third of the population."
  • “"I believe it's crucial that you as governors be reminded how much influence you have over issues in healthcare."

Improving Western Transportation Networks

  • Gov. Gary Herbert: "If regulation could be modified and streamlined, there could be up to a 25% savings in the road projects we are building today. I'd like to see a movement to push on the federal government to improve the process and remove some of the red tape. We will build better roads, for less money."
  • Pat Thomas, Chairman, American Trucking Association: “"We have in the neighborhood of 7 million people involved in our business; 1 in 16 workers in America is connected to the trucking business.
  • Steve Hill, Director, NV Governor's Office of Economic Development: "We think that it is important that the West be on the cutting edge of autonomous vehicle development as a tool to grow the economy in general, and as a tool for economic development."

Governors' Policy Roundtable and Business Session

The BootIncoming Chairman Matt Mead of Wyoming presents Gov. Sandoval a gift of hand-made boots in appreciation for his work during the past year as Chaiman.During the business session the Govrnors elected Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead as the incoming WGA Chairman and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was chosen as WGA Vice Chairman. In addition, the Governors approved five policy resolutions on topics as varied as enhanced oil recovery and water resource managenment. Read the resolutions.

The governors also released the WGA 2015 Annual Report.

The day's activities concluded with a short trip south to Sand Harbor State Park, where the topic was the collaborative effort by California and Nevada to preserve and protect Lake Tahoe. Speakers included Gov. Sandoval; John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources; Joanne Marchetta, Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Pete Sonntag, Chief Operating Officer of Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Drought Forum Cover2015 Annual Meeting

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Western Governors approve policy resolutions on transportation, enhanced oil recovery, agriculture, water resource management, minerals

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Western Governors formally approved five new policy resolutions at the Western Governors' Association 2015 Annual Meeting in Incline Village, Nev., on transportation, enhanced oil recovery, agriculture, water resource management and minerals policy. The resolutions include:

  • Transportation Infrastructure in the Western United States: Western Governors have enacted this resolution to support reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Board and to encourage cooperation and planning that will facilitate investment in the western transportation network, avoid conflict between jurisdictions and prevent work slowdowns at western ports.
  • Enhanced Oil Recovery: This resolution outlines Western Governors’ support of policies and incentives that advance investment in enhanced oil recovery projects, infrastructure, technology and research.
  • Western Agriculture: In this resolution, Western Governors express their support for programs that strengthen local farm families and communities, including programs for all agricultural working lands, forests, and rangelands. 
  • Water Resource Management in the West: This is an update of the Governors’ existing policy resolution on water supply management.  It has been updated to reflect the key themes of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum, as well as the current water management needs and prerogatives of our western states.
  • National Minerals Policy: Revisions to the Governors’ resolution supporting a National Minerals Policy address the critical issue of permitting delays, and focus on the importance of the timely processing of mining permit applications.

Western Governors enact new policy resolutions and amend existing resolutions on a bi-annual basis.  All of WGA’s current resolutions can be found on our Policies Page.

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

WGA Annual Meeting: Drought, sage-grouse conservation dominate Day 1

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2015 Western GovernorsAttendees at the 2015 WGA Annual Meeting, from left: Bill Walker (Alaska), Butch Otter (Idaho), Doug Ducey (Arizona), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Gary Herbert (Utah), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Steve Bullock (Montana), Eddie Calvo (Guam), Matt Mead (Wyoming).

Drought, wildfires and sage-grouse conservation were just some of the topics addressed on day one of the Western Governors' Association 2015 Annual Meeting in Incline Village, Nev.

WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval opened the day by formally releasing the first-year report on his Chairman's Initiative, the Western Governors' Drought Forum, welcomed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to the stage for a keynote address, then led a spirited session with media by the shores of Lake Tahoe at day's end.

Ten Western Governors, led by Gov. Sandoval, took part in the day's sessions, including Bill Walker (Alaska), Doug Ducey (Arizona), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Eddie Calvo (Guam), Butch Otter (Idaho), Steve Bullock (Montana), Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota), Gary Herbert (Utah) and Matt Mead (Wyoming).

Otter Dalrymple BullockGov. Otter, center, shares a laugh from Gov. Dalrymple, left, and Gov. BullockSome highlights from the day's sessions at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe.

Managing Drought: Findings of the Western Governors' Drought Forum

  • Manson BrownAssistant. Secretary of Commerce, Environmental Observation and Prediction: "We call the products and services we produce 'environmental intelligence' – timely, accurate information that helps respond to events including drought."
  • William SarniDirector and Practice Leader, Water Strategy Social Impact at Deloitte Consulting: “I believe we absolutely need better data, more data, but there’s a great deal you can do with existing data sources."
  • Michael TeagueSecretary of Energy and the Environment, State of Oklahoma: While discussing the produced water from hydraulic fracturing. "Why not treat and use that produced water beneficially? We are working with EPA to determine what we need to do at the federal level and in our states."
  • Gov. Gary Herbert: "I am concerned about modeling – if we make assumptions based on the wrong thing, we can make the wrong decisions. How accurate can we be?"

Keynote: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

Jewell CropInterior Secretary Jewell discussed a variety of issues, including the importance of moving away from the current "fire borrowing" model for funding wildfire suppression that transfers funds from other programs, such as hazardous fuel reduction and restoration projects, to pay for wildfire suppression.

Secretary Jewell also lauded the Governors' greater sage-grouse conservation work and said she "remained optimistic that Fish and Wildlife Service will have the necessary certainty to reach a 'not warranted' decision on the greater sage-grouse."

Press ConferenceGov. Sandoval, left, watches Gov. Herbert address the media at he press conference that concluded the day. Also on hand, from left, Wyoming Gov. Mead, Alaska Gov. Walker, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Bullock

Drought Forum Cover2015 Annual Meeting

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the work of the Western Governors by reviewing our policy outreach and visiting the blog. You can also sign up for e-mail updates and follow the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Western Governors’ Drought Forum meeting wraps up first year, looks ahead

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Meeting Photo SandovalGov. Brian SandovalThe Western Governors’ Drought Forum gathered water management experts in Nevada to discuss the most significant themes to emerge during the initiative's first year and next steps to consider to better anticipate and manage drought.

The meeting at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nev., touched on a variety of subjects: the latest regional drought developments, how Governors are responding to drought, and efforts to better distill drought data and present it in more user-friendly formats.

The Forum is the initiative of WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. It is designed to foster a regional dialogue in which states and industry can share case studies and best practices on drought policy, preparedness and management.

Gov. Sandoval also released the Western Governors Drought Forum Report, which is designed as a roadmap to the online resource that collects the work of the Forum and is arranged around seven key themes that have emerged during the first year of the Forum.

Drought Forum Cover"Our Drought Forum discussions have shown that westerners are experts at innovating in response to water supply variability," said Gov. Sandoval. "They have also shown the importance of communicating across sectors and state lines to best respond to drought.  Western states will continue to thrive, even with the threat of drought, so long as we work together and make the most of the water we have."

Gubernatorial leadership in drought response is nothing new, noted Veva Deheza, Deputy Director, National Integrated Drought Information System, NOAA. During the session "Drought Outlook and Latest Developments" Dehaza cited governors' actions over the past decades -- including an MOU signed by Western Governors with NOAA last year -- before concluding “This has been an active governorship that has been cognitive of drought for a long time and taken steps to address it.”

Other comments from the day, which ended with remarks by Gov. Sandoval:

  • Meeting Photo LairdJohn Laird listens to Leo DrozdoffJohn Laird, the California Secretary for Natural Resources, explained that severe penalties (including mandatory water usage classes for chronic abusers) have ultimately resulted in positive water use trends in his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif. “What we have learned is that strict water regulations really do limit water use, and we’re trying to take that out more broadly in the state.”
  • Leo Drozdoff, Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, reminded: “Conditions throughout the West are different. So, too, are the challenges … What’s important not to do is pit one state against the other. One size does not fit all.”
  • Michael Teague, Secretary of Energy and Natural Resources in Oklahoma said that collaboration between state agencies needs to become a mindset, not a once-in-a-while project. "So much of this is just breaking out of the silos.”

The meeting also included an update on the latest drought outlook by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and an overview of data collection and analysis efforts for drought management.

WATCH: Western Governors' Drought Forum First-Year Video

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

Drought Update: Recent heavy rain may delay Lake Mead water cuts

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doublelakemead t653Lake Mead, Las Vegas SunColorado's exceptionally wet May provided critical relief to the drought-stricken Colorado River basin and could help delay mandatory water supply cuts in Nevada and Arizona, according to updated projections released by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Previous forecasts for the Colorado River predicted that Lake Mead's elevation would drop dangerously close to levels that would trigger mandatory cuts in water supplies by next year. The new projections for January 2017 are 16 feet higher than previous projections from just a month ago.

The recent precipitation influx is not enough to make a sizeable dent in the area's long-term water scarcity issue, but it does slow the projected decline in lake elevation at least in the short term.

Learn more in a news story by Conor Shine of the Las Vegas Sun.

The Western Governors' Drought Forum is the Chairman's Initiative of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Part of that effort is to share the latest news about drought and its impact on the West.

  • droughtmonitorjuneOregon Gov. Kate Brown declared drought emergencies in 19 counties and launched the #ORdrought awareness campaign.
  • Water managers in Utah urged drought consciousness despite heavy May rains.
  • Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will invest nearly $50 million to help conserve water in western states.
  • Businesses and nonprofits in 21 Idaho counties were offered drought assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Following Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's statewide drought declaration, farmers and wildlife managers are bracing for a dry summer.
  • California officials ordered holders of some of the oldest and most significant water-rights claims in the state to stop drawing water.
  • Less than 6% of Oklahoma is categorized as abnormally dry after record-breaking May rains made an impressive dent in the state's drought.
  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order instituting water conservation practices for state agencies.

Read last month's Drought Update

Learn more ...

The Western Governors' Drought Forum also includes regional workshops that gather experts to share best practices, case studies and other resources to help states better anticipate and manage drought. Learn more on the Drought Forum website. You can also sign up for e-mail updates (select "Water and Drought" on this page). 

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

Western Governors' News: Hawaii renewable energy, Idaho trade mission, Oregon wildfire awareness

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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 hosted a series of conversations with elected officials and the public on building a sustainable fiscal future.

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey announced a spending plan that would inject $1.8 billion into K-12 schools over five years without raising taxes.

CFihZNyUIAExDpJColorado Gov. Hickenlooper and Utah Gov. HerbertCALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown proposed heavy fines for water wasters in an effort to battle the state's record drought.

COLORADO Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that funds technology able to predict the direction and intensity of wildfires.

HAWAII Gov. David Ige signed a bill directing the state’s utilities to generate 100% of their electricity sales from renewable energy resources by 2045.

IDAHO Gov. Butch Otter touted the success of his recent trade mission to Peru and Mexico.

KANSAS Gov. Sam Brownback proposed tax policy to promote economic growth and balance the budget.

CHBLtdoUkAAEeA3Hawaii Gov. IgeMONTANA Gov. Steve Bullock signed bills to preserve and promote tribal languages.

NEBRASKA Gov. Pete Ricketts promoted safe travel and the ‘Click It or Ticket’ initiative.

NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval, WGA Chairman, signed a bill that creates millions of dollars in incentives to help combat the state's severe teacher shortage.

NEW MEXICO Gov. Susana Martinez announced plans to serve more than 2 million nutritious meals to low-income children over the summer break.

NORTH DAKOTA Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined Nuverra Environmental Solutions to introduce new technology to reduce, recycle and reuse drill cuttings.

OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin signed public education improvement bills to enhance teacher evaluations and promote early learning and literacy.

katebrownOregon Gov. BrownOREGON Gov. Kate Brown joined other Western Governors in declaring May as Wildfire Awareness Month and released two PSAs focused on wildfire prevention.

SOUTH DAKOTA Gov. Dennis Daugaard awarded more than $2.8 million in Community Development Block Grants to aid six local projects.

TEXAS Gov. Greg Abbott signed bills to help veterans get access to better mental health care and job opportunities.

UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert hosted Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and industry leaders at the fourth annual Governor’s Utah Energy Development Summit.

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee donated his pay raise to a fundraising site that helps with school expenses.

WYOMING Gov. Matt Mead announced plans to celebrate the 125th anniversary of statehood.

Read last month's Western Governors' News.

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

Executive Director's Notebook: Attention to detail ensures a great Annual Meeting

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By Jim Ogsbury

As I was leaving the office one day last week, I noticed two of WGA’s dedicated staff members (working late as usual) divvying up state flags. Curious, I asked what they were doing and learned that they were taking the flags home to iron in preparation for this month’s annual meeting in Lake Tahoe. Now that is some kind of commitment and attention to detail!

LeavittMike LeavittThe energy level is always high in our Denver office, but we’ve moved into hyper-drive as we approach the Western Governors' Association 2015 Annual Meeting, scheduled for June 24-26 at Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The agenda is coming together nicely, and we have added a keynote address by the Honorable Mike Leavitt, who has served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Governor of Utah. Attendees will also hear from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

I am excited to report that to date 10 Western Governors have registered to attend. Nevada Governor and WGA Chairman Brian Sandoval will be joined by: Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

During the meeting’s public sessions, the Governors will discuss a variety of Western policy issues, including drought, transportation and energy. (Here’s the latest agenda). There will also be lots of time for interaction with and between the Governors, who optimize the Annual Meeting’s opportunities to learn from panelists, registrants and each other. I am confident you will be struck by their pragmatism, humor, dynamic leadership and bipartisan approach to problem-solving.

The Annual Meeting will be held at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort in Incline Village, Nevada. Registration is outpacing last year’s highly attended meeting, but there is still time and room for you to register now. You won’t want to miss our neatly pressed state flags!

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.

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury testifies about drought before Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

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joWGA Executive Director Jim OgsburyThe Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) today explored the challenges presented by western drought conditions and ways to respond.

Western Governors' Association (WGA) Executive Director Jim Ogsbury was part of an array of expert witnesses that shared perspectives on drought.

Ogsbury's testimony highlighted the extensive policy actions taken by governors to combat water scarcity within their own states. Ogsbury also provided an overview of the Western Governors' Drought Forum, a regional effort created by WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval as a way for states to share case studies and best practices on drought policy, preparedness and management.

In his oral testimony, Ogsbury expressed that the Western Governors look forward to working in state-federal partnerships "to craft solutions that both apply the substantial resources of the federal government and respect the authority and expertise of states to manage water within their borders."

The testimony also highlighted other drought response actions in the West:

  • California Gov. Jerry Brown announced water restrictions for his state in the face of record-low snowpack.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency.
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared drought emergencies in 15 counties and emphasized public awareness with a social media campaign.
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper released a draft of the first-ever state water plan for public review.

ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and the committee also heard testimony from: Mike Connor, Interior Deputy Secretary; Thomas Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; Tom Loranger, water resources program manager for the Washington State Department of Ecology; Betsy Cody, natural resources policy specialist for the Congressional Research Service; and Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Co., on behalf of the Family Farm Alliance.

Read, Download WGA's written testimony
Visit Western Governors' Drought Forum website
Find an archived video of the hearing

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

Federal sage-grouse conservation plans unveiled for Western public lands

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Wyoming Gov Matt MeadWyoming Gov. Matt Mead, co-chair of the Sage-Grouse Task Force, joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday (May 28) for the announcement of a milestone in the state-federal partnership to protect Western sagebrush habitat.

At an event in Cheyenne, Wyo., Secretary Jewell unveiled final environmental reviews for proposed land use plans in 10 western states.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Mug“The West is rapidly changing – with increasingly intense wildfires, invasive species and development altering the sagebrush landscape and threatening wildlife, ranching and our outdoor heritage,” Secretary Jewell said in a press release. “Together with conservation efforts from states and private landowners, we are laying an important foundation to save the disappearing sagebrush landscape of the American West.”

"I think they've done an extraordinary job," Gov. Mead said during today's press conference (E&E News story, subscripion required). "This is not just about the sage-grouse, it's about the habitat; it's about the West. We want to have oil and gas development, tourism and (agriculture).

"“It is appropriate to celebrate today," Gov. Mead said. "We celebrate our partnerships with the federal government and western states – we have come a long way since 2007 but there is still work to be done."

Colorado Gov John Hickenlooper“We’re cautiously optimistic about the approach taken by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in the land use plans," said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, co-chair of the Sage Grouse Task Force. "We’ve had a strong partnership with the Interior Department, and while we still have some difficulties with the BLM’s approach, we remain committed to keep working through those issues. We continue to believe state-led efforts are the best approach to protecting the greater sage grouse."

Other federal, state and local partners participating in the announcement included: USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie; Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, and Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Director Bob Budd.

Today's news follows other extensive greater sage-grouse conservation efforts across the West:

  • Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has issued an Executive Order that put legal authority behind his greater sage-grouse protection plan, which proposes conservation actions on approximately 15 million acres across southern Idaho.
  • Sage Grouse Inventory Cover 2014Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order directing state agencies to take additional conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse.
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued an Executive Order establishing the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program, which seeks to maintain state management of the sage-grouse by protecting its habitat, while respecting the private property rights of Montanans.
  • The Western Governors have released the 2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory, highlighting the effective conservation work undertaken by public, private and non-governmental groups during the past year across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse. Find the report here.

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

National Parks in the West report record-breaking visitor numbers

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DF9D069A A2E7 77FF 60860E3C4A8F5AEFJoshua Tree National Park

The National Park Service (NPS) system saw more than 292 million recreation visits during 2014 that generated nearly $16 billion in economic activity. These impressive numbers were spearheaded by the 15 million visitors to California's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the most visits of any NPS site in the country.

System-wide visitation estimates in 2014 increased by 7% (or 19.2 million visits) compared to 2013, and several national parks saw record-breaking numbers.

National parks with all-time high visitation numbers included:

See the full 2014 National Park Visitor Report here.

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

MarketWatch says West home to most business-friendly cities

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MW DL460 biz ci MG 20150507132601MarketWatch just released a list of America's Most Business-Friendly Cities that shows 8 of the 10 most business-friendly metropolitan areas were in Western states.

The top three spots were held by Dallas, Texas; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington. Other Western cities in the top 10 included San Jose, California; Houston, Texas; Provo, Utah; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Denver, Colorado.

To create this list, MarketWatch looked at the 100 most populous urban centers in the U.S. and ranked them against each other based on business climate, company performance and economic outcome.

See the full rankings here.

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

  • Arizona Gov Doug DuceyArizona Gov. DuceyArizona Gov. Doug Ducey founded a business leadership group called the Zanjeros that will focus on economic development and promoting Arizona.
  • California and Texas are home to the most women-owned businesses in the country.
  • Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah and South Dakota had the lowest unemployment rates in the nation in the latest monthly rankings.
  • North Dakota, New Mexico and Texas showed the highest percentage increases in total tax revenues from fiscal year 2013-14, while California showed the highest dollar amount increase.
  • Oregon's tourism industry broke two all-time records with visitor spending at $10.3 billion and more than 101,000 tourism sector jobs.
  • Texas led the nation in Chief Executive’s 2015 Best States to Do Business survey of top CEOs.
  • Utah's energy sector represents $21 billion in economic activity, approximately 15% of the state's total economy.

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

Western Governors urge EPA, BLM to engage states on methane emissions proposal

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EPA LogoWestern Governors have requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) engage in meaningful consultation with state regulators and governors before the agencies release their proposals to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Western Governors’ Association Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, in letters to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, notes:

  • EPA and BLM already work with states as co-regulators;
  • Some western states have already taken substantial steps to reduce atmospheric emissions of methane from oil and natural gas industries;
  • States have statutorily-recognized authority to manage air quality within their borders, and the Act recognizes that states should take a lead role in implementation of various provisions.

Gov. Sandoval concludes by noting that advance engagement with states can help avoid duplicative regulation and protect western air resources.

Read, download the letter to EPA

Read, download letter to BLM

Read, download the WGA Policy Resolution: Methane Emissions Regulation

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

Western News: Hawaii renewables goal, South Dakota presidential visit, Utah homelessness initiative

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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 the May report:

  • 131766 daimler trucks drives first autonomous truck public roads.1Nevada autonomous truckScience funding: The U.S. Department of Energy awarded geothermal research grants to scientists in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.
  • Hydropower: Colorado began a $3.4 million experiment to save agricultural water and use it to generate power.
  • Renewable energy: A new bill in Hawaii would require 100% of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2045.
  • Wildlife conservation: The new federal wildfire-fighting strategy includes $4 million in projects for sage-grouse habitat protection in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.
  • Self-driving trucks: Germany's autonomous Daimler trucks were granted a license to be tested for commercial use in Nevada.
  • Track & field: The International Association of Athletics Federations awarded the 2021 World Championships for track and field to Oregon.
  • ab6955639e4dee14750f6a7067009deeSouth Dakota presidential visitLast but not least: President Obama said he "saved the best for last" as he completed his 50-state circuit with a visit to South Dakota.
  • Housing progress: Chronic homelessness in Utah dropped 91% in the last decade under the state's "Housing First" initiative.
  • Returning natives: The Wyoming Division of Workforce Services created Wyoming Grown, an initiative to bring talented young former residents back to their roots.

Want more state news? You can find the April states' report here

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

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

Western states outline sage-grouse conservation efforts at House Natural Resources Committee hearing

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John Swartout HearingJohn Swartout of Colorado testifying at the hearingThe House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing today (May 19), "Empowering State Management of Greater Sage Grouse," that highlighted state-led efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse.

Witnesses at the hearing included: Kathleen Clarke, Director, Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office; Dustin Miller, Administrator, Idaho Office of Species Conservation; John Swartout, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Gov. John Hickenlooper; Ed Arnett, Senior Scientist, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The Western Governors' Association submitted the written testimony of Executive Director, Jim Ogsbury. It notes the Western Governors' role in creating the Sage-Grouse Task Force in 2011 to foster a dialogue between states and federal land management agencies and concludes: "FWS should fully recognize the voluntary conservation efforts of states together with local governments, federal agencies, conservation districts, private landowners, industry and nonprofits. These efforts ...will provide greater sage-grouse with the necessary habitat to live and thrive." Read, download WGA's testimony.

Highlights from witness testimony at the hearing included:

  • John Swartout: “Western Governors continue to work with each other and Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, within the Sage Grouse Task Force to create robust state and federal plans to protect the greater sage-grouse. It has been a tremendous effort on everyone’s part. We want to thank Secretary Jewell and her team for their efforts.”
  • Dustin Miller: “The State of Idaho holds to the notion that local collaboration, local ideas, and local efforts garner the greatest results.”
  • Kathleen Clarke: “The state of Utah is committed to the long-term conservation of greater sage-grouse. Over $50 million has been invested over the last 10 years on sage-grouse conservation in Utah.”
  • Ed Arnett: “We believe that the best way to maintain state management authority is to enact both federal and state conservation plans with durable protections for sage-grouse habitat, thus enabling the US Fish and Wildlife Service to make a ‘not-warranted’ decision under the Endangered Species Act without delay.”

Greater sage-grouse conservation efforts have been extensive across the West:

  • SGColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order on May 15 directing state agencies to take additional conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse. See the full Executive Order here.
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order in 2014 establishing the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. Learn more here.
  • The Western Governors' 2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory highlights the effective conservation work undertaken during the past year across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse. Find the report here.

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

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper issues executive order to increase sage-grouse conservation

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Colorado Gov John HickenlooperColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an Executive Order on Friday (May 15) directing state agencies to take additional conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse.

“Our actions, in conjunction with the efforts of our local governments, landowners and many others to protect the greater sage-grouse, have been extensive,” Hickenlooper said in a press release that accompanied the order. “With this Executive Order we are directing our state agencies and our partners to do even more to protect this treasured species."

Hickenlooper directed state agencies to take a number of actions designed to reduce impacts to the greater sage-grouse and its habitat, including taking inventory of -- and improving habitat within -- state lands with grouse populations.

“We firmly believe that state-led efforts are the most effective way to protect and conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat," said Gov. Hickenlooper in the release. "Conversely, a decision by the federal government to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act would have a significant and detrimental economic impact to the state, as well as threaten the very state-led partnerships that are working to protect the species.”

See the full Executive Order here.

Drought Update: Washington Gov. Inslee declares statewide drought emergency

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Washington Gov Jay InsleeWashington Gov. InsleeIn the face of record-low snowpack, parched rivers and desperate farmers, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday, May 15.

Gov. Inslee explained in a press release that impacts from the snowpack drought "are already severe in several areas of the state. Difficult decisions are being made about what crops get priority water and how best to save fish.”

The release also noted that mountain snowpack reached a historically low level of 16% of normal statewide, cause for grave concern as snowmelt during the spring and summer keeps rivers flowing, crops watered and fish alive. 

The Washington Department of Agriculture, according to the release, is projecting a $1.2 billion crop loss this year as a result of the drought. Another major worry is the wide-ranging consequences that the state's low snowpack will have on wildfires.

Gov Inslee said “We have some tough, challenging months ahead of us. We’re ready to bring support and relief to the hardest hit areas of the state. We’re going to do everything we can to get through this."

See more on Gov. Inslee's drought declaration here.

The Western Governors' Drought Forum is the Chairman's Initiative of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Part of that effort is to share the latest news on our blog about drought and its impact on the West.

  • droughtA recent survey by the U.S. Forest Service found that more than 12 million trees have been killed by the California drought.
  • Two counties in Idaho declared drought emergencies due to low snowpack.
  • Montana is bracing for a dry summer after underwhelming April showers.
  • Lake Mead in Nevada reached a record low as its levels fell to 38% of its capacity.
  • According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, more than 60% of Hawaii is experiencing some level of drought.
  • California regulators approved the first statewide rules for the permitting of seawater desalination projects.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah issued a water-shortage advisory to let agencies and water users know to prepare for a very dry summer.
  • Heavy April rains brought much-needed relief to Oklahoma's extreme drought.
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared drought emergencies in seven counties; 63% of the state is experiencing extreme drought.

Read last month's Drought Update

Learn about the Western Governors' Drought Forum

Drought Forum for Home PageThe Western Governors' Drought Forum also includes regional workshops that gather experts to share best practices, case studies and other resources to help states better anticipate and manage drought.

Other Drought Forum content to explore:

  • Watch video recordings of our Webinar Series of in-depth discussions featuring water and drought management experts.
  • Our Oklahoma workshop featured a case study on Efficient Water Management in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Video
  • The Arizona workshop case study examined the Productive Partnership between Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Water Project. Video
  • The California workshop's case study highlighted Cross-Agency Collaboration in Addressing Record Drought in California. Video
  • Our New Mexico workshop featured a case study on the New Mexico River Stewardship Program's Red River Restoration Project. Video

Learn more on the Drought Forum website. You can also sign up for e-mail updates (select "Water and Drought" on this page). 

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

Western Governors promote rangeland health with outreach on seed strategy, horses and burro management, cheatgrass

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Western Governors have again demonstrated their commitment to rangeland health in outreach to federal agencies about a national strategy on seed, management of wild horses and burros, and combatting invasive grasses.

National Seed Strategy: The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on its latest draft of a national strategy on seed supply and application for land rehabilitation and restoration. WGA acknowledges the second draft better defines states as a collaborator, but WGA encourages greater recognition within the strategy of the potential need to use non-invasive, non-native cheatgrassCheatgrassseed to address immediate site-stabilization and restoration needs after fires and other disasters. (Read, download letter)

Wild Horses and Burros Study: WGA has asked BLM to make a more compelling case for the agency's proposed study of knowledge and values regarding the management of wild horses and burros, clarifying how surveying stakeholders will inform its analyses of management options. BLM should also ensure that relevant state agencies are represented in focus groups and interviews. (Read, download comments)

Weed Suppressive Bacteria Registration: The intensity of wildfires is increased by the growing presence of cheatgrass. Given the urgency to deploy new tools to battle this invasive species, WGA has urged the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to submit the registration of the weed suppressive bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens (ACK55) to combat cheatgrass. Independent tests indicate that ACK55 is nontoxic and nonpathogenic, but the ability to begin efficacy trials this fall is jeopardized by the ongoing delay in the submission of the registration package. (Read, download letter)

UPDATE: The Agricultural Research Service submitted registration for the weed suppressive bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens (ACK55) to EPA on Sept. 15, 2015.  Read the submission

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

Western Governors' News: Arizona crowdfunding bill, Montana water compact, Nevada time capsule

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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 was adopted into the Kaagwaantaan clan -- an honor bestowed upon few Alaskan leaders.

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey signed an equity crowdfunding bill aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs.

17009924537 72a97e7cae oAlaska Gov. WalkerCALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown launched the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine to spur public-private collaboration on data-driven medicine.

COLORADO Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed May Mental Health Awareness Month and highlighted statewide mental health efforts.

HAWAII Gov. David Ige announced that an agreement was reached regarding the future of conservation lands at Turtle Bay.

IDAHO Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill that addresses the state's transportation infrastructure maintenance backlog.

KANSAS Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that provides additional assistance to disabled veterans.

CD9Pi7iVIAAP7GhNebraska Gov. Ricketts

MONTANA Gov. Steve Bullock signed the CSKT Water Compact into law after more than a decade of negotiation over tribal water rights.

NEBRASKA Gov. Pete Ricketts proclaimed May Beef Month to recognize the industry's impressive growth in the state.

NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval, WGA Chairman, buried a time capsule to mark the state's 150th birthday.

NEW MEXICO Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation that supports the state's military members, veterans, and their families.

NORTH DAKOTA Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a statewide fire emergency in response to dry conditions, unseasonably warm temperatures and high winds. 

OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin joined bikers on Ride to Remember to raise money for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

CC49SbYUUAAlIhzOklahoma Gov. FallinOREGON Gov. Kate Brown announced a $1.5 million plan to improve air quality in two state counties.

SOUTH DAKOTA Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced Standard & Poor's has upgraded the state's issuer credit rating to AAA with a stable outlook.

TEXAS Gov. Greg Abbott awarded scholarships for students to the 2015 Governor's Science and Technology Champions Academy.

UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert encouraged water conservation and met with water supply experts to plan long-term solutions.

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act into law.

WYOMING Gov. Matt Mead signed a proclamation recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Read last month's Western Governors' News.

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

Western Governors transition management of Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool to wildlife leaders

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CHAT Map AugustThe Western Governors’ Association (WGA) has transferred hosting and management responsibilities for the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

The tool, a cooperative effort of 16 Western states, will now be known as the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool. It can be found online at wafwachat.org.

CHAT’s mission to provide a high-level overview of “crucial habitat” across the West has not changed. The tool will remain a public resource for GIS data about wildlife habitat resources across 16 western states. Western state fish and wildlife agencies will continue to develop, update and improve CHAT after the transition.

“The Western Governors’ Wildlife Council is pleased to see the Governors’ vision of a non-regulatory tool providing resource planners vital habitat information continue under the leadership of WAFWA,” said John Harja, Chairman of the Council, which oversaw the creation and rollout of CHAT in 2013.

“State fish and wildlife data are critical to informed land use, land planning and natural resource decisions,” said Jim Ogsbury, WGA Executive Director. “Western Governors strongly advocate continued use of the CHAT by public and private planners.”

“We are excited to carry on the work started by the Western Governors’ Association in providing wildlife species and habitat information to state and federal agencies, local and tribal governments, conservation advocates, business and industry groups, private landowners, and outdoors enthusiasts,” said Larry Kruckenberg, WAFWA Executive Secretary.

The public launch of CHAT in December of 2013 followed years of work by Western Governors and their state wildlife agencies – as well as partners in industry, non-profits and the federal government.

The website was recently updated with new data analysis and mapping display features to enhance usability. Since its debut, nearly 11,000 users have visited the site, generating more than 55,000 page views and more than 400 downloads of the CHAT data-set.

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

Executive Director's Notebook: Collaboration key to positive Interior ruling on Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse

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By Jim Ogsbury

Sandoval at Sage Grouse RulingGov. Brian Sandoval at announcement of ruling on Bi-State population of greater sage-grouseThe Department of Interior announced last week that the Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse does not require the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The announcement, lauded in the bird’s home states of Nevada and California, recognized the great collaborative work of the states, private landowners and conservation groups to preserve habitat and create favorable conditions for the species. It is exactly this kind of collaboration that is underway on a much larger scale to preclude an ESA listing of the greater sage-grouse, which occupies portions of 11 Western states.

That collaborative work -- a hallmark of WGA’s policy effort -- was central to the Department’s decision and was reflected in the remarks of key players in the conservation effort:

  • "We can achieve more when we voluntarily work together." Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • "Today’s announcement highlights the critical partnerships that must exist for our conservation strategies to be effective." Brian Sandoval, WGA Chairman and Governor of Nevada
  • "The collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat." Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior
  • “This partnership between California and Nevada serves as a model for effective conservation." John Laird, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary

WGA’s 2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory documents enormous investments in the conservation of the greater sage-grouse. These investments, reflecting a good faith effort to protect both the environment and economic opportunity, have depended on vibrant partnerships and cooperative work.

I subscribe to the observation of Jason Weller, the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who in commenting upon last week’s announcement, stated:  "I hope folks take a hard look at this decision, the key ingredients and what we can learn from that, and apply those to the greater sage-grouse, because that's what's up next."

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.

Register for Western Governors' Annual Meeting June 24-26 at Lake Tahoe

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Lake Tahoe BeachThe Hyatt Regency is a AAA Four Diamond hotelThe agenda is taking shape and 10 governors have committed to attend the Western Governors' Association Annual Meeting June 24-26 in Incline Village, Nev.

WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will welcome Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to the meeting at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe.

Keynote addresses will be delivered by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the Honorable Mike Leavitt, who has served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Governor of Utah.  Attendees will also hear from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. (Agenda)

Online registration is available for the meeting. Act now to secure your room at the best rate.

Western Governors and invited guests will discuss a variety of significant western issues. Topics on the agenda include: integrating new, utility-scale storage technologies into the electricity grid; strengthening western highway and rail networks; and improving water and drought policy.

The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe is a AAA Four Diamond hotel with a stunning lakeside location. The meeting is scheduled to begin around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24, and conclude no later than 11 a.m. on Friday, June 26.

Register to attend

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

West dominates new 2015 state economic competitiveness rankings

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Rich States, Poor States2015 RSPS Cover Final S 248x354, the 2015 state economic competitiveness rankings released by the American Legislative Exchange Council, reveals which states are poised for growth and an impressive regional trend: Western states have very strong economic outlooks for 2015.

For the eighth year in a row, Utah takes the top spot for Best Economic Outlook. North Dakota ranked second in the nation, with Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nevada also placing in the top 10.

The report uses 15 equally-weighted economic policy variables to rank the economic outlook of states. These variables -- including tax rates, regulatory burdens and labor policies -- have been shown to be among the most influential factors for state growth. See the report.

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

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

Fish and Wildlife rules Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse doesn't need ESA protection

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Sage Grouse Initiative Bird BlogPhoto by Greg Albrechtsen, Sage Grouse InitiativeThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has determined that the Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse, found in Nevada and California, does not require the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Western Governors applauded the decision announced today by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Reno, Nev., where she was joined by Western Governors' Association Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, and other partners.

"Our biologists have determined that this population no longer needs ESA protection,” said Jewell. “What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development.”

"I applaud the local area working group, private citizens, Tribes, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and our federal partners for their tremendous efforts to develop conservation actions that preclude the need to list the species while still allowing for sustainable economic development," said Gov. Sandoval.

The Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) straddles the California-Nevada border, where between 2,500 and 9,000 of the ground-dwelling birds inhabit about 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush. In October 2013, the FWS proposed listing the Bi-State DPS as threatened, but now it has withdrawn the proposal. Read stories by Scott Sonner of the Associated Press  and Phil Taylor of E&E News (subscription required). 

“California is committed to continue working with our public and private partners in implementing this strong, science-based conservation plan into the future,” said Secretary Laird. “This partnership between California and Nevada serves as a model for effective conservation of the Greater sage-grouse in other Western states.”

Sage Grouse Inventory Cover 2014A key factor in the decision not to list the bird was the development of the Bi-State Action Plan, developed by partners in the Bi-State Local Area Working Group over the past 15 years and secured with $45 million in funding. This adds to nearly $30 million worth of conservation work the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- much of it through the Sage Grouse Initiative launched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service -- and other partners have completed.

Western Governors are leading a similar collaborative strategy to prevent a listing of the greater sage-grouse across its 11-state western range. The bird was listed as "warranted but precluded" under the ESA in 2010 by FWS, which has said it will make a "warranted' or "not warranted" decision by Sept. 30, 2015.

The governors just released the 2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory, highlighting the effective conservation work undertaken by public, private and non-governmental groups during the past year.

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

Western Governors applaud Interior for seeking state input on rangeland fire, offer additional comments

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Rangeland FireWestern Governors have expressed their appreciation to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) for seeking state input regarding policies and strategies to prevent and manage rangeland fire, as well as restore rangeland after fires.

The governors' outreach also included comments on Secretarial Order 3336: A Set of Longer Term Actions and Activities, Draft Final Report. The comments were included in a letter sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, signed by WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Highlights of the comments included:

  • Improving Cooperation and Coordination: Western Governors support removal of policy barriers that prevent effective sharing of resources for wildland fire and land management activities. 
  • Enhancing Local Response Capabilities: Western Governors embrace DOI’s plan for increased technical assistance to local communities that enhances their ability to play a critical role in initial response to rangeland fires.
  • Voluntary Conservation Efforts: The governors endorse expanded technical support and incentives for livestock producers to voluntarily implement targeted fuel treatments and grazing methods to improve sagebrush-steppe habitat.
  • State Science and Expertise: The governors urge federal agencies to obtain and use state data and analyses as principal sources to inform design and implementation of land management actions for habitat and fuels management, and restoration projects. 

Read the letter for more on those issues, as well as comments on Fuels Management, Good Neighbor Authority, Use of Non-Native Species and Removing Invasive Grasses.

Download the letter

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

Western Governors laud extension of Secure Rural Schools funding, encourage permanent solution

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SRS Funding Map 2013 Click on this map for estimated payments counties received from SRS in FY 2013, according to USDAThe Senate has approved two more years of funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS), which helps timber‐dependent counties pay for essential government services.

E&E's Phil Taylor reported that "The extension was included in H.R. 2, a bill to overhaul Medicare payments to doctors. Senators passed the bill 92-8, sending it to President Obama's desk, where it is expected to be signed." The House had passed the bill in March.(Full story, subscripion required)

Western Governors applauded the reauthorization of SRS, which they had strongly supported in February outreach to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as Senate Speaker Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. (Read, download that letter).

The program, which is particularly critical in the West, had expired on Sept. 30, 2014. (A recent High Country News story documented the impact of nonpayment of the funds.) The current bill provides $500 million, which will be disbursed to counties retroactively for 2014 and 2015, National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase told E&E News.

Althought the current bill would fund SRS at 5% less than previous levels in 2013 (see map above), the Western Governors' Association is encouraged that leadership found a way to fund the program. However, as WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury noted in recent testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, the goal is "full funding for SRS payments." (Read testimony)

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

Western News: Alaska wood bison, North Dakota burn ban, Oregon solar schools

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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 the April report:

  • 1ae193b656e8430e720f6a706700883e t730California bighorn sheep releaseInto the wild: A herd of 100 wood bison was reintroduced into the wild in Alaska, marking the first time the animal has roamed free in the U.S. in 200 years.
  • Next frontier: An infrared camera operated by Arizona State University helped NASA pick out the site for the next Mars lander.
  • Back home: For the first time in a century, endangered bighorn sheep have been returned to California's Sierra Nevada mountains.
  • Pluto pictures: A camera developed by a Colorado aerospace company will take the first close-up photos of Pluto.
  • New digs: Clif Bar broke ground on a $90 million bakery in Idaho that will employ more than 200 workers.
  • Impressive numbers: Kansas, South Dakota and Utah tied for first in America in private monthly job growth in February.
  • Energy innovation: A wind energy company in Montana designed an inexpensive, more efficient alternative to the traditional wind turbine.
  • Unemployment drop: At 2.7%, Nebraska had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation for February.
  • 55021e8010ed6.preview 620Idaho bakery groundbreakingFire precautions: statewide burn ban prohibiting outdoor fires was declared by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
  • Solar schools: New schools in Beaverton, Oregon will include $500 million in solar panels.
  • National tour: President Obama announced that he will complete his 50-state circuit with a commencement address at a South Dakota technical institute.
  • Graduation rates: The latest figures showed the high school graduation rate for Texas African-American and Hispanic students was the highest in the U.S.

You can find the March states' report here. WGA also offers a monthly look at the work of Western Governors. Here's where to find the April update.

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

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury testifies before House Natural Resources Water Subcommittee

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April 14 TestimonyWGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury, far left and below, testified along with others before the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Western Governors' Association Executive Director Jim Ogsbury testified on April 14, 2015, on behalf of the WGA before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans.

The testimony shared the perspective of the Western Governors regarding recent federal water-related regulatory proposals, including the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) proposed directive on groundwater resource management and the proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) to redefine the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Some of WGA's comments:

  • As noted in the resolution Water Resource Management in the West, "states are the primary authority for allocating, administering, protecting and developing water resources, and they are primarily responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries."
  • April 15 OgsburyWestern Governors were pleased to hear from the Forest Service that it has suspended work on the proposed directive on groundwater resource management and will work more closely and meaningfully with states in the future. Western Governors applaud this development and commitment.
  • Western Governors differ regarding the substance of the draft “Waters of the United States” rule issued by the EPA and Army Corps. All Western Governors, however, recognize the primacy of state authority over water resources within state boundaries. WGA is concerned that the rulemaking process did not involve meaningful consultation with the states during the draft rule’s development.
  • The EPA Science Advisory Board panel for the review of the agency’s water body connectivity report – purportedly the scientific basis for the rule – included no state representatives.  The report was developed without the regulatory expertise, scientific resources and on-the-ground knowledge possessed by state water professionals.
  • State authority is the cornerstone of effective water management in the West ... states are best situated to understand their own unique legal frameworks, local hydrology and citizen needs.  Federal efforts to assume greater authority over water jeopardize the distinct advantages of having on-the-ground resource management. 

Read, Download Complete Testimony

Watch a video of the hearing

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Story: Western counties bear brunt of non-payment, under-payment of PILT, SRS

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PILTCover

High Country News just published a story that details how the funding "limbo" in recent years for Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) has negatively impacted rural counties, particularly in the West.

The story notes: "In the coming years, lapsed federal funding may also change resource management practices as communities look for new revenue streams." (Read the story)

Western Governors have consistently reached out to House and Senate leadership to request full funding of PILT and SRS, including this letter that asserts the federal government "must fulfill its longstanding obligation to fund these programs for rural counties with tax-exempt federal lands and for timber-dependent counties that rely on this funding."

The Governors also stated support for funding of these programs in the resolution, Federal Agreements with Western States, which asserts: "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.

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Drought Update: Gov. Sandoval creates Nevada Drought Forum

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Governor Sandoval Nevada Drought Forum Washoe LakeNevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed an Executive Order on Wednesday to establish the Nevada Drought Forum.

Gov. Sandoval said the Nevada Drought Forum will "bring together some of the best minds in the scientific, conservation, government and industry sectors to ensure that Nevada’s path forward is clear. The Forum will provide an opportunity for all Nevadans – urban and rural, north and south – to come together to help address this most critical challenge." 

(Read media coverage in the Nevada Appeal and Las Vegas Review-Journal.)

Standing in a dusty bed at Washoe Lake in Nevada for the announcement, the governor noted that he launched the Western Governors' Drought Forum in 2014 as his Chairman's Inititiative for the Western Governors' Association. The Drought Forum has since fostered a regional dialogue for states and industry to share case studies and best practices on drought policy, preparedness and management.

"This June, we will release the final report from that initiative," said Gov. Sandoval, "which will help identify best practices and next steps that will help guide our collective efforts across the West."

"It is no secret that Nevada is in the midst of a severe drought," the governor said. "This situation demands strong leadership and a united coalition to plan, prepare and act; it demands that communities, industries, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and local, state and federal agencies work together to ensure that our Nevada family is able to thrive." (Visit the Nevada Drought Forum website)

The Western Governors' Drought Forum is the Chairman's Initiative of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Part of that effort is to share the latest news on our blog about drought and its impact on the West:

Read last month's Drought Update