Herbert huddling with neighboring governors on public land issues

Published: Thursday, April 26 2012 2:48 p.m. MDT

Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will be joined by four other Western states' governors Friday in what he is billing as a historic, multi-state strategy session to tackle public lands management, the Endangered Species Act and water resources.

Herbert said the Rocky Mountain Roundtable has been called specifically to air shared environmental issues that pose tough public policy questions in Utah and the neighboring states of Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.

"It's a unique opportunity for us to get together and share ideas on common issues related to public lands, especially here in the West where have a lot of public land," Herbert said. 

Shifting public land management policies handed down by the Obama administration have set Utah and its neighbors on their collective heels, Herbert said, presenting an array of challenges dealing with energy development or the handling of sensitive species.

Because many of Utah's neighbors are confronting the same challenges, Herbert said he thought it productive for the governors to meet, and discuss options. He did not rule out litigation to force change, adding it is one of many options to turn to if negotiations with the federal government fall flat.

Wyoming's Matt Mead, Idaho's Butch Otter and Nevada's Brian Sandoval will meet with Herbert at the Governor's Mansion Friday, with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper slated to teleconference in.

"We want to combine together to have a united voice," Herbert said. "We're hopeful we can make a change in public policy."

Herbert said it is imperative for Western states facing common lands issues to present a united coalition because one state alone doesn't exert much political power in Washington.

"Smaller states do not have as much political muscle in Washington, D.C., and are sometimes ignored," Herbert said. "Those are the political realities."

He added that what is likely a challenging issue in Utah is being replicated in neighboring states, such as the implementation of conservation strategies for sage grouse.

Idaho's governor appointed a 16-member task force earlier this to deal with sage grouse — which the federal government recommended adding to the Endangered Species list in 2010. Western states are fighting that potential designation because of the accompanying restrictions and costs it would bring. Instead, the states are focused on implementing conservation strategies.

And like Utah, states' rights issues have cropped up in neighboring states like Wyoming where Gov. Mead has said locals can manage their own state more effectively than the  federal government; and in Idaho, where the federal government owns 63 percent of all the land.

In response to the roundtable, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is staging a noon protest Friday in front of the Governor's Mansion over what they are calling Herbert's disastrous environmental policies.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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