WGA Annual Meeting Day 1: Interior Secretary talks with Governors, invasive species report released, agreement signed with USDA

The Western Governors, from left: WGA Vice Chair Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Laura Kelly (Kansas), Kristi Noem (South Dakota), WGA Chair David Ige (Hawai’i), Brad Little (Idaho), Lourdes Leon Guerrero (Guam), Jared Polis (Colorado), Gary Herbert (Utah),  Steve Sisolak (Nevada),  Kate Brown (Oregon) and Mark Gordon (Wyoming). Attending but not pictured: Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico).

Western Governors had an in-depth conversation with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, released the Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative Special Report, and announced an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pursue collaborative projects on the first day of the WGA 2019 Annual Meeting.

The Governors opened the day by announcing an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pursue collaborative projects in wildfire response, vegetation management and invasive cheatgrass. “This is a significant next step in our shared stewardship collaboration with USDA,” said WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury. The press conference was also attended by Jim Hubbard, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. (Read the blog)

Twelve Western Governors are attending the three-day meeting in Vail, Colorado: WGA Chair David Ige (Hawai’i), WGA Vice Chair Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Jared Polis (Colorado), Lourdes Leon Guerrero (Guam), Brad Little (Idaho), Laura Kelly (Kansas), Steve Sisolak (Nevada), Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico), Kate Brown (Oregon), Kristi Noem (South Dakota), Gary Herbert (Utah) and Mark Gordon (Wyoming).

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury opened the meeting by welcoming Governors and guests, and introduced U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt for a keynote.

Highlights from the day’s sessions at the Hotel Talisa:

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt Keynote: The Secretary dispensed with formal remarks, instead fielding questions from the Governors for the duration of his time. Highlights from the session, moderated by Idaho Gov. Brad Little, included:

On the National Park Service's $12.6 billion maintenance backlog: "We are proposing to use revenue from activities on public lands that would allow us to enhance infrastructure. I met with 41 Senators of both parties and all agreed with me that we should do something good with our national parks. We just need to actually do it."

On reorganizing the department and perhaps moving the headquarters: "We have examined the potential movement of folks from Washington, D.C. to other areas ... There is great value in delegating greater accountability to the front lines of the department. We need to find a way to put more resources on the front lines and organize them to best serve the American people."

Roundtable: Western Governors' Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative Report
The first-year report of the Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative, the Chairman’s Initiative of Gov. David Ige, was released. (Read, download report). In addition, panelists discussed aquatic invasive species. Highlights included:

Libby Yranski, National Marine Manufacturers Association: "We recently created a boating and fishing coalition to focus on aquatic invasive species. This coalition includes AFWA, Trout Unlimited, and the Association of Marina Industries. This coalition allows us to speak with one voice on federal and state policy issues."

Elizabeth Brown, Colorado Parks and Wildlife: "The largest infested waters we’re concerned with are mainly federally-owned, namely Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Much of the management and control activities fall on states to implement."

Keynote: Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts

The Vail Resorts CEO, introduced by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, delivered a keynote on the evolving nature of the business. Highlights included:

“The outdoor industry is critical to many states in the West, with over $887 billion in annual consumer spending on outdoor recreation nationally. Within that, the ski industry annually constitutes $73 billion in consumer spending nationally.”

“We have done a great job building within our existing consumer base, but our industry lacks diversity. Our partners are going into cities and providing gear and passes to Latino and African American communities to allow for greater accessibility to a wider community.”

Keynote: Craig Johnson

Best-selling author Craig Johnson's fictional Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire series was the focus of a long-running series on A&E. Johnson, introduced by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, delivered a well-received keynote about his early days as a writer that acknowledged the impact of the West on his career. “A lot of the success that we’ve had with the books and the show is because of the beauty, and mystique, and romance of the western United States.”

Roundtable: Connecting the Rural West  

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who moderated this session, noted that the expansion of broadband availability can only be accomplished by collaboration between the private and public sector. Highlights from the session included:

Chad Rupe, USDA Rural Development: "We are finding, in the challenge of trying to connect people in the West’s wide open spaces, there is a huge willingness for people to step forward and create partnerships to find new solutions for the challenges we face."

Ray Timothy, Utah Education & Telehealth Network: "We do the engineering and put out the specifications and issue an RFP. The telecom companies then come to us with the best possible prices ... We are the anchor tenant, but they get a return on investment."

Bruce Patterson, Technology Director, Ammon, Idaho: "We operate as a true infrastructure utility. That means the utility is not the internet, it’s the fiber. We operate the fiber just for cost of recovery. Just like sewer and water. We charge exactly what it costs to operate. We used municipal bonds for the capital for build out. Costs are paid by property owners."

The 2019 Annual Meeting continues at the Hotel Talisa on Tuesday. Sessions begins at 9 a.m. and will include keynotes by influential pollster Frank Luntz, and Sergeant Eric Boechler, opioid expert with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Read about Day 2 of the Meeting

Read about Day 3 of the Meeting

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