By Skip Brandt, Idaho County Commissioner, WIR Representative
Idaho county elected officials and IAC Executive Director Seth Grigg traveled to St. George, Utah, this May to attend the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2023 Western Interstate Region (WIR) Conference. This event brings together county officials from across the nation to focus on pressing issues facing counties and our residents.
I would like to thank my colleagues who attended this year’s conference. Idaho was well represented by Bannock County Commissioners Jeff Hough and Ernie Moser, Twin Falls County Commissioners Jack Johnson and Brent Reinke, Latah County Commissioner Tom Lamar, Teton County Commissioner Cindy Riegel, Blaine County Treasurer John David Davidson, Franklin County Prosecutor Vic Pearson, Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz, Idaho County Clerk Kathy Ackerman, and I, along with IAC Executive Director Seth Grigg. It makes a point when the Idaho Representative is not sitting at the Idaho table by themselves. Unfortunately my counterpart Wayne Butts, Idaho’s other WIR Representative and Custer County Commissioner, was unable to attend the conference due to illness. We wish him a quick recovery and ask that you keep Wayne in your prayers.
This year, Idaho has a lot of newly elected officials, so let me share more context regarding WIR. Its mission statement explains that it exists to be the counties’ advocate for public policy issues affecting the West. WIR is affiliated with NACo and is dedicated to the promotion of Western interests within the organization. These interests include public land issues (use and conservation), community stability and economic development, and the promotion of the traditional Western way of life. Its membership consists of fifteen Western states, (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) with membership funded through the individual state associations.
You will notice that there are no other similar NACo affiliates, such as Eastern States, or Southern States. As I understand it, after WIR formed, there was concern that if more regions formed their own entities, it would break up NACo. Therefore, no further regional affiliates were allowed. We here in the West have a very unique opportunity to get our message out within the national organization. WIR has one board meeting a year and one conference annually. Additionally, we meet during the two NACo conferences.
This year’s conference started out with a tour of Zion National Park. I am always taken back when I take these tours in, as there are so many issues out there that are different than ours. As an example, the primary river in Washington County, Utah, is the Virgin River. Not sure how it is classified as a river, as we have creeks that are bigger. And forget about fishing, as there isn’t much to catch! There is a huge local issue involving the desert tortoise population. It was fascinating to hear what is done to try to protect these small, slow-moving critters to keep them from crawling onto roads.
During the conference, we had in-depth discussions about the National Center for Public Lands Counties, how to deal with solar and wind projects, and the ongoing threat of wildfires. One of the presentations that I am going to follow up on was the “Golden State Natural Resources.” The Vice President and a former county commissioner talked about how they are converting the excess and unmarketable biomass and fire fuels into high-value wood products. I have heard about this pie in the sky before, however, the California counties who developed this just may have a workable plan!
I appreciated this opportunity to serve all of you and look forward to further engagement with NACo as we work together toward real solutions.
To learn more about WIR, visit their website.
To see and download photos from the conference that were submitted by Latah County Commissioner Tom Lamar and Idaho County Clerk Kathy Ackerman, visit our Flickr album.