Monday, December 07, 2015

Western governors meet, Jewell speaks

Governors from 19 Western states called Friday for expansion of a program that screens international travelers at airports abroad, in a bid to encourage tourism and stop terrorists before they arrive in the U.S. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the Western Governors' Association in Las Vegas that expanding a U.S. government pre-clearance program would serve two purposes. "First, it enhances national security by keeping potential terrorists from even arriving on U.S.," he said. "Second, it encourages tourists to travel to the U.S. by reducing the hassle and wait times at customs checkpoints" when they arrive. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell focused during a keynote speech on issues including drought, wildfires, species protection and abandoned mines. She urged states to continue working with federal officials to address them. Jewell said adopting rules this year to protect habitat for the greater sage grouse in 11 Western states, rather than declare the chicken-sized bird an endangered species, was one example of cooperation. The nation's top land manager acknowledged the breadth of the regulations created lots of work for lawyers. "But I will say that it's way better than a listing," she said. "It provides certainty to developers ... states ... and the conservation community as well." The budget-busting cost of fighting wildfires was another burning issue during the twice-yearly governors' meeting. Robert Bonnie, a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, said the cost of fighting wildfires has exploded from about 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget in the mid-1990s to more than half the agency budget in recent drought-stricken years. Fires this year in Washington state and California were among the worst on record, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter noted that the so-called Soda Fire in the southwest of his state burned nearly 450 square miles. States are calling for the federal government to classify severe wildfires as natural disasters for funding purposes. Bonnie said the problem is that the Forest Service spent $3 billion of its $5 billion budget fighting fires that charred nearly 10 million acres in 2015, leaving few resources for needed forest management, research and recreation programs...more

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