Report: National Association Of Counties (NACO) Legislative Conference
by Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman
March 21, 2014
As chairman of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) Public Lands Committee, and as a member of the Public Lands Committee for NACO, I recently attend the Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. This is my report to Sublette County on the issues addressed on behalf of Wyoming Counties.
I introduced and explained a resolution sponsored by WCCA to reauthorize the Federal Lands Transfer Facilitation Act (FLTFA). This act, if reauthorized by Congress, will allow the BLM to sell various isolated parcels of lands that have previously been identified for sale with the proceeds to be used for conservation efforts. It would result in a net increase of land to be placed on the tax rolls. This resolution passed and was adopted by the NACO Board of Directors, and is now NACO policy.
Wyoming Commissioners attended a Western States Public Lands Counties meeting in regards to revising the Congressional RS2477 statutes that would provide Counties the means to have more control over roads on public lands for the purpose of preserving public access on public lands. This effort will likely begin in the House Natural Resource Committee.
Meeting with Neil Kornze, BLM Director: The primary topic was Sage Grouse. Commissioners expressed concern that the BLM may add additional restrictions on multiple use activities based on the BLM National Technical Team Report, which would be in addition to what is required in Wyoming by the Governors Sage Grouse Executive Order. We discussed the October 2012 letter from the USFWS Cheyenne Office to Wyoming Game and Fish and Wyoming BLM Director Simpson, indicating that Wyomingís Conservation Strategy, if implemented, would be considered the "gold standard" for Sage Grouse Conservation and no additional restrictions would be necessary. We asked for assurance that the preferred alternative in the Sage Grouse 9 plan RMP amendments would, in fact, be the Wyoming Conservation Strategy. We did NOT, adequately, receive this assurance. We also discussed efforts by Wyoming Counties to develop socio economic baseline data at the County level. Once completed, this will accomplish two objectives. The first will be to provide socio economic information to the federal agencies, as a means to require them, to quantify socio economic impacts of federal agency actions. The second will be to provide Counties with a stronger position at the cooperating agency table.
Meeting with Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Steve Guertin and Gary Frazer, Assistant Director for Endangered Species: Again, the focus was Sage Grouse and a request to USFWS to make it clear to the BLM that in Wyoming, the Wyoming Conservation Strategy is sufficient to prevent a listing. There seemed to be confusion with regards to the October 2012 letter from the USFWS Cheyenne Office to Wyoming BLM, and the Commissionersí goal was to get the DC office of USFWS to clarify that position. We will be following up on that issue with the Governorís Office. We also discussed Grizzly Bear management in the Upper Green, and made the point that if the take limit is reached, then reconsultation should be based on science and the bear population as provided by Wyoming Game and Fish. We have since learned that if the take limit is reached on the Upper Green, livestock grazing will be removed rather that reinitiate Section 7 consultation. If this occurs, it will have very serious impacts on the custom and culture of Sublette County, as well as, decimation of the livelihoods of the ranchers who graze in the Upper Green. Removal of livestock grazing in the Upper Green is unacceptable. We will be discussing this further with the Governorís Office and Game and Fish Director Talbot. We will also be in contact with our Congressional Representatives.
Commissioners had a lot of discussion in DC about ways to permanently fund Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT,) both within our NACO meeting and with Representative Lummis, Senator Enzi, and Senator Barrasso. For this year, funding of PILT was attached to the Farm Bill, but only for this year. Commissioners discussed the need for real changes to the Endangered Species Act with our Congressional Representatives, and with several staff members from the House Natural Resource Committee. We should be hearing about some needed changes in the near future. Single Species management has gotten to the point that conflicts exist between species, and land managers can no longer manage for healthy rangelands for all species. Something has to change. I attended a Congressional Hearing on the ESA in Casper last summer and provided input.
Meeting with USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie: This discussion included how Wyoming Counties participate in the NEPA process as cooperating agencies, as well as, require coordination with local natural resource plans. We also discussed the development of socio economic baseline data at the County level, as discussed above with BLM. We discussed the need, and desire, to implement pilot projects that would result in more local and State government input into management of forest lands, as well as, provisions in the Farm Bill that will provide the Forest Service with more effective tools to manage the resource. This includes permanent authorization of both Stewardship Contracting Authority and Good Neighbor Authority.
Meeting with Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner: We, again, discussed the need for more local and State involvement in management. The best management decisions are always made at the local level with local people working together on the ground. I specifically discussed the Southern Winds CE lawsuit, and the lack of resources in the Pinedale Ranger District needed to perform the NEPA required to renew grazing permits on numerous grazing allotments. I provided Associate Chief Wagner with a briefing packet from the Pinedale Ranger District that included a list of resources needed to perform NEPA so as not to risk the renewal of grazing permits in the Southern Wind Allotment complex. The Associate Chief promised to follow up with the Regional Office. I brought up the need for Counties to have issue based MOUs for cooperating agency status. In other words, an MOU for County cooperating agency status could be developed that would include numerous issues of concern such as Grizzly Bears, Big Horn/Domestic Sheep, the Boreal Toad issue, expansion of Lynx habitat into areas where Lynx cannot live, public access issues, etc. The last issue discussed with the Forest Service was to provide an update on Governor Meadís Forest Task Force. I serve on this task force and will provide updates to Sublette County citizens as the Task Force progresses.
Meeting with Federal Communications Commission Wireless Bureau (FCC): The FCC is seeking comment in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to streamline its NEPA reviews for the approval of, both additions and improvements, on existing wireless structures to accommodate new technologies and bolster wireless coverage. Commissioners discussed our responsibility to provide for the welfare and safety of our citizens, and the difficulties related to siting of wireless towers on public lands. We informed the FCC how we can help by participating as a cooperating agency in the process. Our offer for help was well received.
Formation of nationwide Coal Counties Coalition: Campbell County Commissioners led this effort at NACO to establish the Coal Counties Coalition, as a response to the proposed EPA rule on regional haze. The proposed rule sets standards, well beyond the technical ability of industry to meet, and the result, if adopted, will make coal unusable as a source of energy in the U.S. This is important to all of us as it would cause energy costs to increase dramatically. Loss of coal production in Wyoming would have a tremendously negative impact on the State economy. Coal lease bonus payments are a primary source of funding for school facilities in Wyoming. One objective of the Coal Counties Coalition is to educate the public on the result of implementing this rule.
Joel Bousman, Sublette County Commission