Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee Report
By: Pete Obermueller, WCCA Executive Director
It was great seeing many of you last week in Gillette. That meeting set the WCCA and your staff on a solid path for the upcoming year in many respects.
It was back to work this week at the Joint Agriculture, State and Federal Lands, and Water Resources committee up in Hulett, and Joint Revenue in Saratoga. I will write about Revenue in the coming days.
At Agriculture the topics of interest to counties were wide ranging federal/state regulatory and management issues. The morning kicked off with a presentation by staff of the Wyoming Congressional delegation. All three offices spoke of efforts to modernize the Endangered Species Act, including bills already drafted to increase the transparency of data available to state and local government on listing petitions. There was also continued discussion regarding passage of legislation to more carefully track federally funded litigation through the Equal Access to Justice Act.
Senator Hicks: We plan to have a conference call like this with our federal delegation at each of our meetings. One of the issues of great importance is stranded state lands parcels within restricted federal areas. We are looking at putting together a list of parcels for a transfer bill that we hope the delegation will take up. We are also very interested in the various collaborative efforts to improve management of federal lands.
Answer (Travis McNiven with Senator Barrasso): With respect to the state parcel inholdings, the Western States Land Commissioners are working on a bill to address state land trust inholdings. The idea of the bill was to set up a process that states can elect to go through to deal with state lands inholdings. The bill needs to be reintroduced and worked again this Congress.
Following this the committee explored some of these collaborative management efforts. I testified for about 30 minutes regarding the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. I outlined the history of Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming and the structure of the WPLI.
Chairman Hicks: How were the county advisory teams established, and what are the decision-making processes for the advisory teams?
Answer (Pete): The teams were established by application to the county commissioners, and selected to be broadly representative of public lands users. The decision-making process is somewhat unique to each county, but the teams are all striving toward consensus. The first check of an elected individual happens at the county level when recommendations come to the county commissioners. After that the WCCA, the Governor's office, and congressional delegation will need to put ideas onto paper in actual legislative text. It then must move through Congress.
Rep. Blake: Sweetwater County is not participating. They seem to have a great relationship with the federal agencies in our county. Do other counties not have as good a relationship?
Answer: Like every county, Sweetwater county's relationship with federal agencies changes from day to day and issue to issue. The federal agencies have been helpful on WPLI because the WSA's are difficult for them to manage. WPLI is not an adversarial effort with the federal agencies.
Following the discussion Chairman Hicks moved an idea to create advisory teams modeled after WPLI that would report to the legislature. The committee advanced the idea but it was clear that more discussion was needed as there was not certainty on what a committee like this would do, or who it would report to, and why. We'll continue to follow that discussion and its impacts on WPLI.