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Pinedale Online > News > March 2022 > Report on NACO Legislative Conference
Report on NACO Legislative Conference
by Joel Bousman, Sublette County Commissioner
March 10, 2022

I attended the National Association of Counties (NACO) Legislative Conference in Washington DC February 10 thru Feb 16, (2022) where I serve as chairman of the NACO Public Lands Steering Committee and on the NACO Board of Directors.

The purpose of Public Lands Committee is to recommend policy to the NACO Board of Directors that provides direction to NACO staff on behalf of all counties in the US in regards to supporting local government input into federal lands management.

Much of the discussion in our Public Lands Committee was in regards to catastrophic wildfire. The Public Lands Committee and NACO Board of Directors adopted two resolutions on wildfire:
1. "NACO supports long-term federal funding of Shared Stewardship agreements and work because of the imminent need to address the issue of unwanted fires threatening critical watersheds and vulnerable communities."
2. "NACO urges the U.S. Forest Service to partner with counties to implement the Confronting the Wildfire Crisis ten-year strategy by ensuring funding is available for forest health projects most impacting community health and safety. Due to the high risk that exists for communities located in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), NACO asks that at least 10% of the funds allocated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) be used in direct coordination with counties that border or have USFS land in their jurisdiction."

In regards to addressing wildfire and the need for active forest management, our committee was informed by the Forest Service concerning the large amount of funding that is coming with the recent bills passed in congress including the IIJA. Counties with active Forest Collaboratives in place working with forests that have a long-term management strategy in place, as well as NEPA done in order to move forward with projects on the ground will likely have a higher priority for funding, especially with projects addressing forest management in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Sublette County is in the process of updating our Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and hopefully we will be in a good position to receive funding to implement this plan moving forward. This will mean working across all land ownerships for stewardship projects that will enhance forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire. Our Sublette County Forest Collaborative will be scheduling a meeting, hopefully in March, to receive feedback from the Forest Service on project priorities established by the collaborative and additional opportunity for forest management projects. If you are a member of the collaborative, you will be receiving tentative meeting dates from Mike Henn, SCCD and collaborative facilitator.

Redefining the "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) is the Biden Administration’s goal of expanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ authority in regulating water. Under the Clean Water Act Section 101 (b), the U.S. Congress explicitly sets policy to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of States to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution of land and water resources. Counties interpret this to mean that all surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric waters within the boundaries of a state are the property of the state for the use of its people. The NACO Board of Directors adopted a policy resolution that opposes broadening the definition of WOTUS to expand federal jurisdiction. I served on a panel with EPA and Army Corp Officials in which I pointed out that Wyoming has strong state laws protecting our soil and water. Wyoming’s laws are even stronger that the federal Clean Water Act, as are many other states as well. Our focus should be on strengthening local and state laws to protect land and water. We know the situation on the ground better than anybody in Washington ever could. Federal Agencies should focus on working WITH state and local governments, rather that expanding federal jurisdiction. It is important for us as counties to participate with the EPA and Army Corp as they finalize any WOTUS rule with a strong statement supporting state and local primacy on this issue, which we’ve had primary control over since the founding of our republic.

The NACO Board of Directors also passed a resolution in regards to the Biden Administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative, also known as "30x30". NACO takes issue with the fact that this initiative lacks a clear definition of conservation and setting a land use policy is uniquely a county authority. Agricultural lands in production should not be at risk of having restrictive land use designations placed on them to achieve a 30% conservation goal. I served on a panel discussion with Interior Department Officials in which I pointed out that Conservation and Preservation are two completely different concepts. I gave two examples of conservation which counties could support. I explained, for example, that a federal grazing allotment in which the permittee is working with the agency range staff to properly monitor the impact of livestock grazing and where the allotment is trending toward or meeting the monitoring objectives, as well as other multiple use objectives, then that allotment should be considered "conserved" for purposes of this initiative. I pointed out that a forest which is being actively managed, including timber sales, stewardship contracts for thinning purposes, addressing the needs of the Wildland Urban Interface, and benefitting multiple use activities, including wildlife habitat should be considered "conserved". I pointed out that more wilderness designation is not conservation, and will be strongly opposed by western counties.

I also served on a panel that included Congresswoman Liz Cheney in which I stressed the importance of continued funding of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, known as PILT, and for funding of the Secure Rural Schools program, known as SRS. Both of these programs are permanently authorized, but not permanently funded, which means that counties have to continue to lobby congress to make sure we are funded each year. This is important for us in Sublette County, as we received approximately 900 thousand dollars annually in PILT funding. We also use the SRS funding to pay for our Search and Rescue helicopter contract each year. Our Search and Rescue volunteers have saved many lives by having this resource available here in Sublette County.

There is much more information on activities and policy positions on the NACO website if anyone is interested in learning more about NACO, and what they do to represent counties. What I am reporting on is just a tiny fraction of what NACO does on behalf of county government.

Thank you.
Joel Bousman, Sublette County Commissioner

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