Posts tagged: Western Governors' Association
Governors in 16 states unveiled a high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project Thursday that they hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region's environmental treasures, the AP reports. The Western Governors' Association wants to make it easier to chart paths across large landscapes where developers can expect the least regulatory resistance and threat of litigation as they draft plans to build highways, dig gold mines and erect power lines, pipelines or wind farms. Five years in the making, the database will connect 16 western states from California and Alaska to Idaho and Oklahoma with a first-of-its-kind online system of colorful GIS maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources, much of it detailed down to square-mile increments; click below for a full report from AP reporter Scott Sonner.
On the same day that Washington eliminated its tourism promotion funding and shut down its state tourism office, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her new role as chair of the Western Governors Association, announced that her initiative for the year will be a “Get Out West!” campaign, promoting outdoor recreation, conservation, tourism and volunteerism across the 19 western states. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do it collectively with governors in the West,” she declared. Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com, which also includes a wrap-up of today's final day of the Western Governors Association's annual meeting in Coeur d'Alene, at which Gregoire took over the chairmanship from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.
Not in the story: This tidbit from Otter. He says this is the first WGA meeting he can remember to which Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer didn't bring his dog. Why not? “He said he rolled in some dead fish, and so he wasn't going to bring him.”
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her new role as chair of the Western Governors Association, has announced that her initiative for the year will be a “Get Out West” campaign, promoting outdoor recreation, conservation, tourism and volunteerism. Ironically, the move comes just as her state is eliminating all funding for tourism promotion. “The state can no longer afford to do some things it has done historically,” Gregoire said. “So we're turning to the private sector to see if we can't fund a coalition. … This is about partnering with private-sector organizations that have already come forward to me and said how enthused they are. REI has already stepped up and said, 'Let us know what you want us to do.'”
Said Gregoire, “I just think we're in a time right now where government can't do it all.” She said, “If I had money, it would go into tourism in Washington state. You know I can't cut schools and keep government money in tourism. So we'll be turning it over to the private sector. … It's time for the private sector to partner with the state. … This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do it collectively with governors in the West.”
Former Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado told the Western Governors Association that states can set the tone for both private-sector and public-sector moves into industrial energy efficiency. He quoted from the association's newly published report on the topic: “A governor's leadership within a state is key to encouraging industrial energy efficiency.” Ritter said, “Policy is really key,” from building codes to energy efficiency standards to financing options. Plus, he said, “You can get more emissions reduction from what you do around energy efficiency than almost anything else.”
Among the panelists addressing industrial energy efficiency at the Western Governors Association today is Don Sturtevant, energy manager for Simplot Corp., the company where Idaho Gov. Butch Otter worked for 30 years. “When I was there, it took 27,000 BTUs to make one pound of french fries,” Otter said. Sturtevant said, “I'm happy to say we're now 2,600 BTUs per pound of french fries, and we're continually driving that down.” He said of Simplot Corp., “We are a large french fry manufacturer, fertilizer manufacturer, and hold a lot of land and cattle. We use a lot of energy. … It can be … our single largest uncontrolled expense. … We have good incentives to go after energy efficiency.”
After Sturtevant's comments, Otter joked, “With all these savings I fully expect my retirement check to go up.”
Click below for an article from AP reporter Nick Geranios on this morning's discussion of wildfire and forest health at the Western Governors Association meeting in Coeur d'Alene; now, moving into its afternoon agenda, the governors are beginning a session in reducing energy demand by improving energy efficiency. “If we don't use it, we don't have to produce it,” declared Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who called conservation “the low-hanging fruit in the energy orchard.” Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy, said she'd go one step further: “It's the fruit already on the ground, ripe for us to be picking up and taking advantage of.”
Jane Lubchenco, administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is at the Western Governors Association today to sign a memorandum of understanding on making crucial weather and climate science information more broadly available to the states and others in the west. “I think it goes without saying that few environmental factors affect our economy … businesses and lives … more than weather and climate,” Lubchenko said. She noted the “extraordinary does of severe weather” the nation suffered this spring. Preliminary estimates put the damage at more than $20 billion, she said. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said, “We're very excited about signing this agreement to memorialize our great working relationship,” shortly before the WGA voted unanimously to approve it. Said Lubchenko, “I look forward to a long and very robust working relationship with WGA on these issues.” Here's a link to a full announcement from the WGA.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter formally nominated Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as the incoming chairman of the Western Governors Association, and the nomination was approved unanimously amid a round of applause. Otter then nominated Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to be vice-chairman of the group, and that nomination, too, won unanimous approval.
Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States, told the Western Governors Association today that western premiers and governors “share a vision” of land management. “Our wildlife does not require 'Real ID' to get across our border,” he said to chuckles. “You know that Canada is your biggest customer. We buy more goods and services from the United States than the whole European Union put together.” He added, “You probably know that we've got lots of tourists visiting you all the time.” In a country of 35 million people, 25 million visit the United States, he said. “We love to travel to the United States.”
Doer also touched on cooperation between Canada and the United States on international issues, including Libya, Afghanistan and Iran, and trade and energy issues. “We are with the U.S. and with Israel on not allowing or accepting unilateral declarations of countries that do not believe in the right of Israel to exist,” he declared. Doer also got a round of applause when he said, “I also want to congratulate the United States for that great and successful Navy Seals mission in Pakistan.” He said, “We really appreciate that skill, and our soldiers and military wanted me to pass that on to you and to the American people here today.”
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said there's long been a struggle to get funding for management efforts on federal lands like thinning and prescribed burns, and Washington, D.C. doesn't seem to recognize that spending up-front on management could save money on fighting devastating wildfires. Washington Congressman Doc Hastings said, “I get frustrated by that, and every year we try to put more money in there.” Long term, he said, there should be more flexibility to act on the local level. Kitzhaber said funding still is needed, as many of the required thinning efforts won't pay for themselves. He said it should be thought of as “investment in forest health.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter asked about addressing “checkerboard” land ownership among federal, state and private lands, and Washington Congressman Doc Hastings noted that changing that takes “literally an act of Congress” any time federal land is transferred, but said he's open to ways to streamline that process. Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, said he favors a “good neighbor policy” to make an “all-lands” approach to forest management work.
Idaho forestry official David Groeschl said, “If we look back 20 years, the missions of state trust lands, private lands and federal lands were … much more aligned.” Now, they're not, he said, and “it's created definitely some tensions at some times as well as increased costs. … There is some benefit at looking at trying to consolidate lands. … Reducing that interspersed, intermingled nature of it, you can realize reduced costs and increased benefits from doing that. So that is one tool that would be really helpful.”
David Groeschl, administrator of the Idaho Forestry and Fire Division, described the “forest asset management program” that Idaho is following on its state trust lands that are part of the state's endowment to the Western Governors Association, and offered it as a model for forest management. “The trust land model is really about sustainable forests, sustainable revenue that supports our education here in Idaho as well as benefit our local communities in perpetuity,” he said.
Unlike federal forests, Idaho's state trust lands are required by the state Constitution to be managed for a single, specific goal: Maximizing long-term returns to the trust's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools.
Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, said this is the wettest year in the last 117 years. Yet, he said, “We are having the driest period on record in many parts of the country, while we are having the greatest period of flooding that we've had in literally decades in other parts of the country.” He displayed a slide showing snowpack in most parts of the Northwest at 150 to 180 percent of normal, but said if it were fully updated, it could be as high as 200 to 300 percent “in most parts of the country.” The conditions have only increased the need for forest land restoration efforts, he said.
Sherman agreed with earlier comments by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that forest restoration efforts need to take place on a “landscape scale.” He said, “Random acts of conservation are not enough.” Instead of looking at projects to restore 300 or 500 acres, he said, projects should look at areas of 1 million acres. “We just have to do this on a larger scale. … This can be a great way to employ people and to give strength to rural communities in the future.”
Current efforts already under way include partnering with ski areas to restore land on their borders, which is important to the ski areas for fire protection; lift ticket surcharges are funding those efforts, Sherman said. “We need to build public-private partnerships to a greater degree than we have in the past. … We need to work with recreation interests, with the energy industry, with the utility industry, with the water industry, to come up with joint projects together to help restore these lands to protect the benefits that all of us enjoy.”
Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Western Governors Association this morning that more timber harvesting is needed on federal lands, and states need more control. “I think if you have a greater opportunity to manage the land within your area, you probably will have a better outcome,” he told the governors. As Congress considers the future of the legislation initially known as Craig-Wyden, the secure rural schools and communities act that provides payments to rural counties to make up for lost federal timber money, Hastings said, “The true solution to the secure rurals act is more harvesting of timber. That's what we really should be doing.”
He also said the Endangered Species Act, last reauthorized in 1992, “cries for being reauthorized” now, but instead “Congress keeps kicking the ball ahead,” creating no incentive to address it. “This year, I've been working very closely with Congressman Mike Simpson,” Hastings said. “We have worked together on a number of issues and will continue to do so. … There has to be a way by which we incentivize people to sit down and talk. … We'll probably work through the appropriations process to hopefully affect that outcome, because it needs to be done in a rational way and in a grown-up way.”
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber invited Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to share an update on the wildfires in her state to open this morning's Western Governors Association panel on forest health. “We now have the largest fire in our history in the state of Arizona,” Brewer said. “The destruction is vast, and the losses are … so, so great.” Already this year, 1 million acres have burned, she said. “About 1 percent of the total land mass in Arizona has already burned in this fire season alone, and the season is not even over yet,” Brewer said. Though most of the fires are now nearing containment, they won't be put out completely until the monsoon season arrives, she said. “And when those rains do arrive, they will bring flooding, and we will need to prepare for that as well.”
Brewer said, “These fires have destroyed some of the most beautiful parts of our state, and it will take years to recover. But we do know what's needed. … We need to better manage our forests to prevent this from happening again or at least to minimize the devastation.” She called for “large-scale forest restoration,” and said, “We are quickly losing opportunities to be proactive. … We know what needs to be done, quite simply we need to do it and we need to do it now.”
Forest health is the first topic for the Western Governors Association this morning. “We have had some problems in being able to afford to do things that we need to do in order to have healthy forests and manage healthy forests,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the group. “Federal agencies need to be good neighbors, they need to work with the states.” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber will lead the discussion; panelists include Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment; and David Groeschl, administrator of the Idaho Forestry and Fire Division.
Western governors are interested in following Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's lead to closely track National Guard members after they return from deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, for everything from health to employment needs. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, “I want to go back and make sure that's what we're doing, and if we're not doing it, make sure we're doing it. … Because I really do believe that the key issue here is first make sure the veterans know. … It doesn't matter how good the program is if they are not aware of it.”
It was just one of an array of solutions western governors discussed for how to help the many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in a dismal job market, as they convened the annual conference of the Western Governors Association on Wednesday in Coeur d'Alene. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said when military veterans return home from deployment, “The transition has got to be seamless.” She shared “a little issue that my state has come upon:” That returning vets may have learned valuable occupational skills, “but for whatever reason we've set up licensing criteria that for whatever reason is just a little off.” Instead of adjusting, she said, “We say, 'No, you're not qualified, you have to go and get the credentials.' It seems minor, but it actually is quite a significant issue.” She said Washington state has been “breaking down the bureaucratic barriers inside state government to recognize that it ain't the training we may give, but it is equal to or better than the training we may give.”
David Brasuell, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, said several programs in the state are gearing up to help returning veterans. Among them: The state Department of Transportation got a grant to work with the state Department of Labor to help returning vets with experience driving heavy equipment get their commercial drivers licenses. “It's already helped 18 veterans,” he said, 12 of whom have recently gotten commercial trucking jobs. The agencies are seeking a bigger grant next year to take the program statewide.
The state Department of Labor also has been holding weekly orientations for returning veterans, he said, and there's a growing inter-service family assistance council that includes the National Guard, employers, nonprofits and more. He said federal budget cuts likely will put more pressure on states to step up to provide such services. “This post-9/11 G.I. bill is the best veterans education program we've had since World War II, it's a great program,” Brasuell said. But college isn't for everyone, and vocational and other programs also need to be offered, he said. “I totally agree with the general that the TAP classes need to be revamped. … It's in need of changing.” He said, “It's the inter-agency cooperation that's going to get things done.
Brigadier General Robert F. Hedelund, addressing how states can better help returning veterans, said, “This is a very, very important subject to the Marine Corps.” He said the military can't promise veterans jobs outside the service, “but we can promise them, I think, opportunity … make sure they're as prepared as we can make them.” The Transition Assistance Program that all branches of the military, including the Marines, offer, “has not been renovated, retooled, re-looked at in 19 years,” Hedelund said. “I think everybody in this room can acknowledge that a lot has happened in our country in 29 years, so it's time to start looking at this.”
The Marines have polled more than 5,000 who have left the service over the last year or so, and asked them what they got out of transition assistance, he said. “And it's a pretty sad tale.” Among the challenges: Preparations need to start long before discharge, to give military members the tools they'll need well in advance. “Career-long learning is what we're talking about,” he said, and it's being developed now. The new program will include four “pathways,” he said: Career-oriented, for those who want to make a career of skills they've learned in the military; vocational training, for those who need training for a different vocation; education; and entrepreneurship. He said, “We know that this is going to take a team effort, and we're ready to join the team.”