For years federal officials based in the East have dictated much of what happens in the more sparsely populated West. It therefore makes sense for Western states to band together to give themselves more clout in determining their own future.

That's precisely what Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and governors from 17 other Western states concluded during last week's meeting of the Western Governors Association in Girdwood, Alaska. Their efforts are noteworthy and needed.Leavitt and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have teamed to write the "Shared Environmental Doctrine for the West," which gives states more control over natural resources while limiting federal regulation. "Westerners need to go about resolving these problems through greater collaboration, innovation and economic incentives," Leavitt said. We wholeheartedly support that statement.

As the governor noted, federal agencies should be participants, not taskmasters, in the process.

While officials in the West have talked about working together to increase their voice in Washington, last week marked the first time the governors have committed to a single vision for solving the environmental problems spanning 18 Western states - from saving fish in the Northwest to cleaning the air over the Grand Canyon.

Governors support federal laws such as the Clean Water and Clean Air acts but want to draw national standards that allow them to set their own courses for achieving them.

Clean-environment goals, they properly argue, are better achieved by local collaborations than courthouse confrontations. Agreement on the recent exchange of school trust lands is an example of cooperation between state, federal, local and environmental parties.

That kind of cooperation is what's needed to solve the most taxing environmental issues.

As the West grows, its leaders need to balance stewardship with preservation of its unique heritage and history. Leavitt and the other Western governors are doing their part to see that those needs are met.