TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. Governors from several Western states met on Sunday to discuss strategies for protecting the iconic wildlife that roams their region while also capitalizing on the states' immense energy resources.
The governors voted to form the Western Wildlife Habitat Council on the first day of the annual Western Governors' Association conference, held this year in the valley of Jackson Hole in Wyoming's northwest corner.
The council's task will be to identify key wildlife corridors and habitats for wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, sage grouse and bear.
The council will also study ways to protect animal habitat in the face of ever-increasing demand for domestic energy development both in the form of oil and gas drilling and new construction of solar and wind generation plants the building of new infrastructure for the region's growing population and the effects of climate change.
"It is very interesting that you often have world-class habitat that is sitting right above world-class energy reserves," U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said. "It is to our benefit that they are not mutually exclusive. When you look at the $4-a-gallon gasoline and see what the implications are of that for the American family with regard to fuel and food, you need to do all you can to responsibly and environmentally develop our energy resources."
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, chairman of the association's board of directors, has emphasized the preservation of wildlife habitat, particularly to protect hunting, as his state enjoys the benefits of abundant coal and natural gas reserves.
Along with gathering a foundation of information on wildlife habitats, Western states and the federal government should work cooperatively to make sure energy developers follow through with mitigating their disruption to habitats, he said.
"There are some companies that are doing a very good job, but there are also some companies who are not," Freudenthal said.
Steve Elbert, vice chairman of BP America Inc., said his company supported the association's wildlife corridor initiative. If successful, it will help set a framework and boundaries for developers to operate within, he said. But he said there will always be debate over the initial question of whether a certain area is suitable for energy development.
Even if attempts at energy conservation and production of renewable sources are successful, the United States "will need more coal, more oil, more natural gas, more nuclear power in 2030 than it does today," Elbert said. "The West is and will remain a critical supplier of energy for the nation."
TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who spoke at the conference after hosting NBC's "Meet the Press" in Jackson Hole earlier Sunday, told the governors he was excited to see the West gaining prominence in this presidential election year.
"I know the people here across the political spectrum, representing so many cultures, so many national interests, so many ideologies, are always first and foremost citizens of the land they inhabit," said Brokaw, a South Dakota native who now owns a ranch in Montana.