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Idaho governor: collaboration key to solving land issues

Governor Little presser Sept 11

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A collaborative process that gives everyone a say is key to solving many federal public lands issues in the U.S. West, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday.

"Good resource management in the West requires that people are not disenfranchised because they don't have a voice in how they manage the federal lands," Little said in a keynote speech to the Western Governors' Association's Working Lands Roundtable.

The association represents 22 Western states and Pacific territories. Many states in the West contain huge swaths of federal public land, most of it administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In Idaho, those two agencies oversee just over 60% of the state's land area.

Little said his state has been lucky this year in not having a bad wildfire season, compared to other Western states, particularly California.

"It's terrible what has happened, but it also has brought a lot of people to the table," he said. "Where do we see the next real susceptible point for a catastrophic wildfire? And what do we do about that? There's a lot of good work going forward."

He noted firefighting efforts on Idaho rangelands that now incorporate ranchers as first-responders in a collaboration called Rangeland Fire Protection Associations. They're comprised of volunteer landowners trained and authorized to respond to wildfires, and they sometimes receive equipment from states and federal agencies.

Idaho is also collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service on timber and forest health activities on federal land alongside timber and environmental groups. Little said the collaborative process allows a more holistic approach rather than no action at all if groups simply fight.

Garth Fuller of The Nature Conservancy said the Working Lands Roundtable makes possible projects that cross jurisdictions.

"The platform that the roundtable provides is a great example of collaborative conservation at scales that really matter," he said.

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said participating in the Working Land Roundtables has given landowners not only an opportunity to be represented, but "also to learn from other stakeholder groups about their experience and perspectives, and this has been enormously helpful."

John Swartout, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc. - which helps county commissioners, mayors and council members - said participants must consciously choose to avoid the adversarial relationships that have formed over time.

"The answers aren't in Washington, D.C.," he said. "They're with our governors and with our states and with our local governments across the West."

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