WOC Legislative Session 2014

By Richard Garrett, Jr.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council has one core objective during every session of the State Legislature: to support actions that will improve and protect Wyoming’s air, water, wildlife, and quality of life—and at the same time work to modify or discourage legislation that would threaten these values.

It is this simple premise that underpins all of our efforts in Cheyenne. We apply this principle as we analyze every bill that the Legislature considers.

In recent years, the Outdoor Council has worked hard to cultivate and carry out a collaborative and respectful approach to advocacy—both in terms of the rhetoric we use and the way we conduct our interpersonal communications with legislators—as a way to earn greater success with companion groups and organizations, interested citizens, legislators, and the governor. We believe that this approach best serves our members and our mission.

By my estimate, this session was one of our most successful ever. Our board members engaged directly with the legislative process and found time to host a reception early in the session, too. Meanwhile our members played a critical role in one of the most important bills that the Legislature considered—a proposed measure to improve the funding model for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (details below).

And finally, we had the opportunity to work in coordination with other organizations, some of which are not typically engaged in the lawmaking process.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signs the the large project funding measure for Wyoming's Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust on Thursday, March 6, 2014.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signs the the large project funding measure for Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust on Thursday, March 6, 2014.

Bills we supported

This year—the Wyoming State Legislature’s 62nd session—we identified no fewer than two dozen bills that deserved our close attention.

One of the most important bills of the session was the funding measure for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. You can read more about that bill here.

We are happy to report that Governor Matt Mead signed this bill into law on Thursday.

This bill’s success is particularly noteworthy in that we collaborated with many others for its passage, we worked to ensure that it wasn’t amended, and we engaged you, our members, and our board, in the process. The bill gained momentum throughout the session in no small part because of our collective efforts.

We also worked hard for the passage of the large project funding measure for Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. The important projects and easements that this bill approves, which are paid for via the trust, will restore habitat, revitalize riparian areas, remove invasive species, and preserve thousands of acres of important open space from development. The Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust is one of the best tools available to the state to protect the greater sage-grouse and help keep it from the brink of extinction.

We will continue to encourage the Legislature in years to come to fully fund the corpus of the trust.

Another bill that the Outdoor Council endorsed was the formalization of the Sage-Grouse Implementation Team, which is a fundamental component of the governor’s executive order for the protection of sage-grouse. We helped achieve inclusion of two members from the conservation and sportsman communities on the team.

Bills and resolutions we opposed, or sought to improve

During this session, the Legislature faced the question of whether to continue to fund an effort where state lawmakers would actively pursue, as they have during the previous two interim sessions, the “transfer of public lands”—that is, they would work to achieve an outcome where the state of Wyoming would somehow wrest control of federal lands and minerals within its borders—in what some have called the Sagebrush Rebellion, or the Sagebrush Rebellion redux.

We followed this bill through the legislative process and managed to help convince the members of the Senate’s Minerals, Business, and Economic Development committee to vote 3-2 against the bill.

Success seemed short-lived though when the House gutted another bill that had already passed the Senate and inserted the language of the bill that the Senate Minerals Committee had voted down. This meant that the bill had to go to a special committee of six legislators to resolve the differences between the two versions.

We were able to successfully engage with the committee and moderate the bill in a way that will reduce the Federal Natural Resource Management Committee’s focus on the so-called transfer of public lands.

Though this is a modest accomplishment, it’s also an important one because the legislative process is mostly incremental and in this case the Legislature seems to be moving in a more reasonable direction. (And I am particularly grateful to our board member, Terry Jones, for working in Cheyenne on this issue.)

The Council worked against passage of bills and a resolution that will add funding to the state’s attorney general’s office to support its legal battles with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Many of our board members helped in this effort early in the session and although one of the bills passed, we were able to use the process to remind legislators of the destructive consequences of climate change and the critical role that the EPA plays in trying to combat it.

Even though Senate File 75 and SJ 1 passed, it is uncertain that the attorney general needs or will use the funds allocated. And members can be assured that we will pay close attention to what the state may (or may not do) in terms of trying to hamper the EPA.

Looking ahead

I’m proud that throughout this session we were able to engage, once again, in a respectful and productive way with legislators on a broad range of issues, including the important issue of climate change.

Just yesterday, Senator Jim Anderson (Senate District 2) approached me and, without prompting, said that the Wyoming Outdoor Council is of vital importance to the state and its legislative process. He personally thanked me for our collaborative approach and our tireless efforts to make sure that with balance, Wyoming’s environment is safe for future generations.

Thank you to our members, supporters, board, staff, friends, and other organizations for giving me the chance to work with you and on behalf of Wyoming’s environment and quality of life. I am looking forward eagerly to the interim committee activities and the next phase of the process.

Contact: Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst and legislative advocate, Wyoming Outdoor Council. 307.332.7031 x18, richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org

Other posts of interest:

The View from Cheyenne—How a bill becomes a law

Orphaned Wells: Dealing With Unseen Threats to Wyoming’s Groundwater

Flashpoint: It’s Time to Reduce Waste and Pollution from Flaring

MEDIA RELEASE: New Wyoming Groundwater Rule Approved

West Edge