Best of the West: Meet three new Western Governors; tamping down COVID among firefighters; prodigy paddles the Grand Canyon

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Nov. 2, 2020.

Are we the only ones who noticed there was an election this week? Didn’t think so.

On a more serious note, though, this week’s ballot box extravaganza was about a lot more than who gets to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years. It also asked the American public to decide on a dizzying array of propositions, amendments, Representatives, Senators, and, of course, Governors.

In the West, three members of our Board of Directors were re-elected: Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington and Gov. Doug Burgum, our Immediate Past Chair, in North Dakota. While we congratulate those returning Western Governors, we will soon bid farewell to a trio of WGA stalwarts: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and American Samoa Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga.

Gov. Bullock, who is term limited, will be replaced in the Treasure State by Greg Gianforte. While the new Governor most recently served in the House of Representatives, he spent many years prior to that as a successful entrepreneur in Bozeman.

Spencer Cox will take the reins in the Beehive State from Gov. Herbert, who elected not to seek another term. Cox, a Utah native, had a successful career in law and telecommunications before becoming Lieutenant Governor in 2013.

Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga will be replacing outgoing American Samoa Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga. Previously, the Governor-elect served as Lieutenant Governor of the territory, as well as a Senator for Sua County #2 in the American Samoa Legislature. Additionally, he has held many other leadership positions in both the American Samoa Government and the United States Armed Forces. 

WGA offers its congratulations to all three new Western Governors.

Invasive Update: The final report of Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon's Invasive Species Initiative urges the state to act soon in addressing the rise in invasive plant species. “A leafy spurge treatment may cost one million dollars over ten years," the report states, "But ignoring the issue, or treating for a year and walking away, could ultimately come with a much larger price tag, both financially and ecologically.” The 40-page report developed by scientists and policy experts offers a suite of recommendations and cites WGA’s recently-launched Toolkit for Invasive Annual Grass Management in the West.          

Broadband Boost: Rural communities in North Dakota, Montana and Colorado are in line for improved broadband service thanks to recent federal ReConnect grants. The $6.9 million grant received by Reservation Telephone Cooperative in western North Dakota will enable them to build broadband infrastructure that will reach around 500 locations in that state and Montana. The Yampa Valley Electric Association in Colorado will use a $6 million grant, along with $2 million of its own money, to build more than 200 miles of infrastructure to reach 264 homes, 27 farms, 27 businesses and three U.S. Post Offices in Moffat, Eagle and Grand counties.

Fighting Fires and COVID: Good news has been in short supply when it comes to western wildfires. But while Montana’s 2020 fire season was "a little above average,” Mike DeGrosky of the state's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation found a silver lining when it came to limiting COVID cases among its firefighters. The Fire Protection Bureau Chief said that, thanks to strict new protocols, "we did have some COVID exposures ... (but) it was way, way, lower than we had ever hoped." Learn more about that from Montana Public Radio. You can also listen to the Firefighting in the Era of COVID episode of our Out West podcast, which focuses on efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to curb COVID in their firefighting units.

Kid Kayak King: It’s a fair bet that most of us were hitting the local swimming pool during the summer after fifth grade. And that’s fine, just don’t expect that to satisfy 10-year-old Bodie Hilleke of Colorado, who just paddled all 280 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. (And yes, that makes him the youngest to ever do that.) Of course, he wasn’t alone: His kayak legend of a father, Tommy, along with his older siblings (ages 11, 13 and 14) also made the trip. Oh, and some other friends, too. So yes, you need to read about this adventure in The Colorado Sun.

ICYMI: COVID-19 in the West: A state-by-state breakdown of the Governors’ work (updated regularly)

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