Report on NACO Legislative Conference
by Joel Bousman, President, Wyoming County Commissioners Association
March 24, 2012
Cindy DeLancey (Executive Director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association), myself, Jim Hudelson (also a member, National Association of Counties – NACO - Board of Directors), Troy Thompson, Gay Woodhouse, Diane Humphrey, and Laramie County Assessor Brenda Arnold (member, NACO Board of Directors), all attended the NACO Legislative Conference in Washington DC (March 3-7, 2012).
I serve on the Western Interstate Region (WIR) Board of Directors and the NACO Public Lands Steering Committee. Both WIR and the Public Lands Steering Committee are mostly engaged in natural resource issues. A lot of discussion centered around concern for continued funding for Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the need to lobby our congressional representatives to continue funding. In regards to this issue, our Wyoming group met with Senator Barrasso, Senator Enzi, and Congresswoman Lummis and strongly emphasized the need for continued funding for SRS and PILT. We were all notified after we got home that the Senate late last week passed a bill extending funding for both SRS and PILT for another year. They must have heard our message.
A highlight of the NACO meeting was the unveiling by BLM Local Government Coordinator Cynthia Moses-Nedd of the new Desk Guide to Cooperating Agency Relationships and Coordination with Intergovernmental Partners 2012. Both Commissioner Doug Thompson and myself had input into the draft of this document and it is finally in force and available. An e-mail version and printed copies should be out any time. Temple Stoellinger will be working with our Federal and State Agency partners to conduct training sessions for all Wyoming local and state government cooperators and BLM and Forest Service staff later this year.
Cindy and I met with Steve Black, Counselor to Secretary Salazar, as well as BLM Director Bob Abbey to discuss the proposed revocation of the Bureau of Reclamation land near the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Wyoming. Our message was that our Congressional Delegation, Governor Mead, and the WCCA were all united in insisting that the revocation process be open, transparent, and provide for meaningful public participation, as opposed to the Bureau of Reclamation circumventing the planning process and greatly expanding the wildlife refuge and developing alternatives without input from local and state cooperators. The WCCA counties involved have yet to be offered cooperating agency status by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Since this meeting, we have learned that the recommendation to the Secretaries will be to turn the land back to BLM and for BLM to further conduct NEPA with cooperator involvement, with most of the land in question continuing under multiple use management. The affected counties and the state need to be involved as cooperators to help make sure this happens. We discussed with Steve Black, Sweetwater County concerns with wind development and reinforced Sweetwater County’s position on any transmission corridor in Little Mountain.
In our meeting with BLM Director Abbey, we discussed Sage Grouse and our efforts to encourage counties in the other sage grouse states to follow the lead of Governor Mead to be proactive in order to prevent a listing. We also requested that commissioners and state governments have cooperating agency status on the two multi state EISs that are being planned for sage grouse.
We asked that Wyoming Field Offices strictly follow the Wyoming Sage Grouse Interim Management (IM), and the Governors Executive Order, and expressed concern as to how grazing might be impacted in the ultimate Record of Decision (ROD) on Resource Management Plan (RMP) amendments in Wyoming. We asked that the Wyoming Field Offices be as consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order as possible. We passed along the message to Director Abbey that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Office Managers and staff in Rock Springs and Pinedale have been excellent to work with. We discussed the frustration of the Big Horn Basin counties in trying to effectively participate in the inventory process as it pertains to "Lands with Wilderness Characteristics" (LWCs), and how this is mentioned in the new 2012 desk guide. We will be having additional discussion with Don Simpson concerning this matter as well as negotiation of the language in Cooperating Agency Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) addressing areas of participation and special expertise. We brought Director Abbey up to speed on the participation of Sublette County in the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) court case in Idaho that affects the Pinedale RMP and provided Director Abbey with the economic analysis of the potential impacts in the Pinedale Resource Area.
In addition, Cindy and I met with Butch Blazer, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Undersecretary, Natural Resources and Environment. Items discussed included the Hams Fork timber management project being led by Lincoln County. We asked that in light of the reinstatement of the Clinton Roadless Rule, that the Secretary pass authority for any projects back to the Regional Forester. We thanked Deputy Undersecretary Blazer for his and Deputy Secretary Sherman’s support of the Hams Fork Project and specifically relayed the need to expand the term of Stewardship Contracts as a means of making active management of our forest economically viable in light of the loss of most of the infrastructure needed to manage the timber resource. We emphasized the need to address the bark beetle and what we see could be the impacts to our resource, especially the destruction of our watersheds if something is not done. We requested that as Wyoming considers developing a state-wide roadless rule under the administrative procedures act, that we have commitment from Secretary Vilsack that the Secretary will support and implement the rule and that we are looking at a two year process similar to Idaho. We discussed how counties are working proactively with the Bridger Teton and plans for participation in travel management planning. Also, we discussed our plans in Wyoming for cooperating agency and coordination training workshops. Both Deputy Undersecretary Blazer and the Forest Service liaison to Local Governments Randy Phillips seem in strong agreement with our efforts as counties to more actively engage in the process.
Thank you to everyone who attended the legislative conference. We all need to remember a statement I first heard from Governor Mead: "If you are not at the table, you are on the menu."
Also, a special thank you to Temple for preparing excellent briefing papers for our meeting s with the federal agencies and thanks to Cindy for keeping us organized and on track in our discussions at the conference. Cindy and I tag teamed a lot of our discussions with the agencies. It makes my job so much easier.
Editor’s note: The National Association of Counties (NACo) is a national organization that represents county governments before the Administration and Congress. NACo provides services to the nation's 3,068 counties. NACo advances issues with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public’s understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research, and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money.