Opinion by Joel Bousman
During my tenure as President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) it has been my top priority to ensure that Wyoming county commissioners have at their disposal all of the information and tools that they need to make the best decisions for their counties and their constituents as well as to ensure the voice of Wyoming county commissioners is heard and duly considered in state and federal decision-making. It became apparent to me as soon as I became an elected county commissioner that one of our most important responsibilities is to understand and defend the economic base of our counties and the resulting custom and culture of our communities.
I am very proud of the work that has been accomplished in my two years as President of WCCA, and I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on a number of natural resource related priorities of WCCA.
One of my top priorities as President of WCCA has been to ensure that we had a close working relationship with former Governor Freudenthal, and now with Governor Mead and his staff. When local and state governments work closely together, we are most effective. I greatly value the support and communication that Governor Mead and his staff have provided to my fellow commissioners, the WCCA and me. Together, we have been effective in addressing many issues.
As a commissioner from Sublette County, I greatly appreciate the value of having a seat at the table with the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service as they prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) or planning documents. As my fellow commissioner Doug Thompson from Fremont County is fond of saying, “If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.”
It is extremely important for commissioners to participate as a partner with the federal agencies in developing federal planning documents that will impact the county, both from an ecological and an economic perspective. As a cooperating agency, county commissioners have an opportunity to provide data and information, review and comment on draft documents, and express the concerns and desires of the citizens they represent to the federal agency making the decision. As an active participant in the process, we are able to work with the federal agencies with the goal of ensuring that their decisions are in the county’s best interest.
During the 2011/2012 legislative session, WCCA worked hard to ensure the successful passage of SF 84, a bill that provided a clearer definition of the counties’ role as a cooperating agency in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process by defining the areas where commissioners have special expertise – a federal buzzword used in the NEPA process – and ensuring that counties have the ability to coordinate their local land use plans with the federal agencies.
To ensure that we all have the tools to be an effective cooperating agency, WCCA hosted a NEPA and cooperating agency training for county commissioners, legislators, conservation districts and state agency employees in Rock Springs in June. With the help of the Governor’s Office, we were able to bring the top NEPA, BLM and Forest Service experts to provide information and helpful advice to the 100-plus participants that attended the training. WCCA will be hosting a second training in late November in Casper, and we plan to hold additional trainings on a regular basis.
Looking back many years from now, I am sure we will all agree that sage grouse was the biggest natural resource issue of our time. Sage grouse have impacted us in ways we might not have imagined 10 years ago, including a legal challenge to the Pinedale Resource Management that could have eliminated livestock grazing and any additional oil and gas development from the Pinedale BLM Field Office.
WCCA has taken an active role to keep the commissioners informed of the latest events and decisions on the subject and to help develop a common statewide position on a number of sage grouse related efforts. From my perspective, it is critical that we keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list, while at the same time preserving our economies and way of life, which may be jeopardized if the sage grouse is listed as endangered. This is an ongoing issue with a lot of work yet to be done.
I feel that it is important for local government to be actively involved in litigation when our economies and way of life are at stake. To that end, WCCA has participated as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, in the state of Wyoming’s litigation effort to overturn the Clinton Roadless Rule. WCCA is also involved as an amicus curiae in the Rock Springs Grazing Association’s effort to ensure that the BLM is properly managing wild horses in the Green River Field Office, and in litigation in Utah challenging Secretary Salazar’s Wildlands Order.
From establishing quarterly meetings with the Wyoming BLM State Director to developing relationships with top federal agency personnel in Washington D.C., I have made it a priority to ensure that Wyoming commissioners have access to the folks who are making the decisions that have an impact here on the ground in Wyoming.
It means a tremendous amount to me personally to have the opportunity to serve as the President of WCCA the last two years. I have had an opportunity to meet and work with some tremendously talented folks here in Wyoming and across the nation. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished on behalf of Wyoming’s counties and their residents. We have worked hard to develop informed positions that we can all support and to push hard to see those positions are reflected in final decisions.
The current makeup of WCCA has changed. Two counties have gone from three to five county commissioners (Laramie and Carbon) in this past election. We now have 91 county commissioners statewide and 19 of those are newly elected commissioners. Of the new commissioners elected, one is a democrat, one is an independent, and 17 are republicans; seven are women and 12 are men. Five counties will have a new chairman, as their current chair will not be returning to their elected seat in January.
My point in sharing this with you is that I encourage you to get to know your county commissioners. They want to hear your input and perspectives on local issues. Consider getting involved in county government.
Even though my tenure as President has come to an end, I remain committed to participating in an organization that I believe in. The county commissioners across Wyoming are some of the finest people I know. I trust them and their judgment. There is much work to be done, and your county commissioners are a tremendous resource, as you can see from all the items I discussed above. The experience of being the President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association is an experience that I will never forget. I have learned so much about our great state and the people of Wyoming. I appreciate the opportunity to have served.