Federal funds, catastrophic wildfire, telecommunications technology, access, regulatory decisions — and safe, healthy communities were all on the minds of western county supervisors gathered in Phoenix last month.
Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin is president of the influential Western Interstate Region (WIR) which formed in 1978 as a caucus within the National Association of Counties. WIR exists to promote issues and interests specific to western counties; to ride herd on matters ranging from public lands, wildfire and economic development facing counties across 15 member-states.
“I’m honored to serve as president this year and proud to represent both Gila County and Arizona. Our National Association of Counties is a powerful alliance standing up for issues that affect us right here at the county level. Our meetings each year bring a new chance to meet federal officials, learn from other counties’ experience — and work together to introduce and fine-tune proposed legislation. Or, alternately, work together toward repeal of regulations that cause harm, or have proven ineffective,” said Martin.
She works closely with peers elected to lead the WIR — from Mariposa County in California, Ravalli County in Montana, and Sublette County in Wyoming. She shared a few highlights of the October meeting, including these discussion topics and goals:
• Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) — Foresters in Arizona have been working for 15 years with other stakeholders to reduce the threat of high-intensity wildfires to neighboring communities — primarily by prescribed burns and mechanically-thinning trees to restore forests.
• Shared Stewardship of National Forests — In August the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Forest Service (USFS) unveiled a new strategy to collaborate with state and county governments to better manage the National Forest System. The Shared Stewardship strategy is new, in part, from new authority both agencies achieved with the 2018 omnibus spending package to manage national forests.
• Update from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been at the forefront of the U.S. Department of the Interior efforts to engage more closely with state and local governments.
• Forest Service Guidebook — For the past year WIR leadership and staff have worked with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on a guidebook for county officials and USFS personnel to help agency employees and county governments better understand their respective roles in the planning process.
• Economic Development and the Rural vs. Urban Divide — Seven of the top 10 fastest growing states are here in the West. This population explosion, the majority of which is concentrated in urban centers, leads to competition for resources in states and can strain the ability of local governments to provide necessary services and infrastructure to meet growing demand. Supervisors joined a panel discussion focused on economic development efforts within federal agencies, state government and the private sector designed to close the gap between rural and urban areas.
• Presentation on Tourism and Its Economic Impact — Tourism creates thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars in economic activity in western states. Supervisors joined a panel discussion with the National Park Service and Arizona Office of Tourism; representatives from each explained how their respective offices promote recreation in western states, and how county governments can work with state and federal agencies to increase visitation.