On January 28-29, 2015, I attended a forum presented by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) titled Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism. Over 40 participants attended from state natural resources and tourism agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations to discuss drought impacts, innovative drought solutions and technologies, and policy approaches to mitigating the effects of drought in the outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.
This was the fifth and final meeting in a series focused on drought as part of an initiative Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s started as chairman of the WGA. The drought forum is designed so states and industry can identify ways to avoid or mitigate the impacts of drought through sharing best practices and case studies of government policies and business improvements seen throughout the West. The results of these efforts will be released and discussed in a report with recommendations at the WGA annual meeting in Lake Tahoe, NV, on June 24-26.
WGA has a nice summary of the two-day event, including a video of the case study discussion of New Mexico’s River Stewards Initiative. What’s most notable about the recreation forum is that it occurred at all. Increasingly, leaders across the West are realizing that hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are integral parts of our American heritage and economy, a realization that is reflected in state water plans, polling data and economic analyses time and again. WGA should be commended for saying we, including sportsmen, are all in this together, and preserving hunting and fishing must be prioritized in any drought planning process.
I was the only presenter or attendee with a primary interest in the federal role in drought response. Though the states must and should take the lead in managing water resources within their borders, the federal government has an inherent interest in making sure the western U.S. doesn’t run out of water. The feds can do so using two main tools, which is the message I gave at the forum: (1) encouraging cooperative stakeholder processes and (2) funding cooperative solutions. The TRCP is tracking federal programs that do these two things in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget and has profiled ten of the best examples of successes from these programs in a report released on February 26, both of which I’ve written about before (e.g., here and here).
While the drought forum met its main goal of creating a dialogue about problems, best practices and solutions, it’s unclear whether WGA has the ability to move the dialogue into action. There was little talk about replicating the best practices discussed or commitment to changing state policies that may be stifling innovative solutions. Sportsmen should look to the WGA report and recommendations in June to be the judge. In the meantime, sportsmen can help by joining the WGA mailing list at westgov.org and providing comments on the findings of individual drought forum meetings at the Drought Forum website.