Drought, fires and sage grouse dominate Western Governors’ meeting
INCLINE VILLAGE — The long-range forecast doesn’t bode well for the interior West as it chokes on a fourth year of drought and smoke from wildfires.
With the fire season ramping up and temperatures starting to soar, drought and fire dominated the discussion at the Western Governors’ Association annual meeting being held this week.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has chaired the group for the past year, made drought his signature initiative, bringing together water experts and managers to develop best practices for water management and drought preparation.
From the Colorado River Basin, which has experienced drought for nearly two decades, to Lake Tahoe and groundwater basins around the West, water sources are stressed, and tough planning is needed to ensure urban areas and rural economies can survive as competition for water intensifies.
No specifics were talked about, but a report released to the group Wednesday outlined seven items as critical for drought preparation.
While not a surprise, the long-range forecast from Manson Brown, deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, caused Sandoval and other governors concern.
Brown said drought conditions “will persist or intensify” as the summer progresses, and winter months that bring rain or snow are unlikely to deliver drought-busting precipitation.
With the exception of Southern California and the desert Southwest, “winter precipitation is expected to be near normal or below normal West of the Rockies,” Brown said.
Much of the West is seeing the effects of drought through low water levels in rivers and reservoirs and tinder-dry forests. Farm fields are being left bare, and some small communities are trucking in water because of wells gone dry.
Earlier in the day, Sandoval was joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a tour of the Washington Fire burning about 30 miles south of Lake Tahoe. The lightning-sparked fire has burned about 17,000 acres.
About 500 firefighters from state, local and federal agencies are battling the blaze in tall timber in rough terrain.
Wildfires are not confined to Nevada and California. Some 475 fires are burning in Alaska.
Jewell praised the collaboration of fire agencies and said that kind of teamwork is needed tackle other tough Western issues.
“We’re not the enemy,” Jewell said of the federal agency. “We actually work collectively toward a common purpose.”
But Jewell endured some criticism over sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird dependent on a healthy sagebrush ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a federal court mandate to determine by the end of September whether the greater sage grouse found in 11 Western states and parts of Canada should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
States fear a listing could put the brakes on energy development, mining, ranching and other economic development efforts, seriously crippling Western economies.
— Sandra Chereb
Internet gambling ban bill introduced to Senate
WASHINGTON — Legislation that would reimpose a ban on legalized online gambling was introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate.
The bill by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would restore an interpretation of federal law that prohibited Internet gambling until a 2011 opinion by the Department of Justice opened the door for states to explore making poker and casino-style games legal online.
Since then, Nevada has legalized online poker while Delaware and New Jersey have legalized a broader suite of games. The new bill does not contain a grandfather clause that would allow those to continue legally.
The legislation from Graham, who is running for president, would carry out the goals of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has put big money behind a campaign against online gambling. Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has argued that making wagers over the Internet is corrosive to society and bad business for the casino industry.
On the other hand, a coalition of conservatives and casinos who see the Internet as a new frontier for marketing and profits that could be made off ’net betting have argued that states should be given the ability to decide for themselves whether to allow residents to wager online.
The fight over online gambling has provided full employment for dozens of lobbyists retained by the major interests on both sides, as well as Native American tribes, poker players, the horse racing industry and others affected in some way or another.
— Steve Tetreault
Federal official: Bundy will be held accountable
INCLINE VILLAGE — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday she is confident that Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, who with armed supporters faced down federal officials over grazing cattle on public land, will be held accountable.
“Cliven Bundy has had multiple court orders to remove his cattle from federal public lands and he has not paid his grazing fees and he has not abided by the law,” Jewell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We will continue to pursue that.”
Jewell spoke in Incline Village, where she was to deliver the keynote address to the Western Governors’ Association later in the day.
In April 2014, Bundy supporters from around the country congregated on his remote Southern Nevada ranch after Bureau of Land Management officers tried to round up his cattle for failing to pay $1 million in grazing fees over the past 20 years.
A tense standoff ensued before federal officials backed down and the cattle were released back to the range.
“The safety of our law enforcement officers and the safety of people that represent land managers at every level is of paramount importance to me,” Jewell said.
“The wheels of justice move at their own pace,” Jewell said. “I am confident this issue is going to be appropriately resolved.”
— Sandra Chereb
Sandra Chereb and Steve Tetreault are political reporters for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.