Bousman calls on county commissioners to step up
As the new president of the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association, Joel Bousman of Boulder speaks to the ability and possibilities for Wyoming’s county commissioners to better represent multiple use interests.
“It’s important they understand the workings that go on out there on the land that create the basis for our communities and economies,” says Bousman of the local government officials.
“At the local level, most are familiar with the day-to-day functioning of local governments. County commissioners set the budgets, but as far as their opportunities, we as elected officials take the same oath of office that every other elected official takes – to enforce what’s in our Wyoming and U.S. constitutions,” states Bousman. “That creates some obligation and responsibility to do more than what some of us realize.”
“Everything that happens is, in some way, tied to our natural resource base. Everything that’s produced, and what we consume, is related to the natural resource base. As elected officials we can take more opportunities to develop closer working relationships with local conservation districts,” he says, noting that Wyoming has good statutory framework for conservation districts. “It’s better than many states, and that gives us the opportunity to work with our districts and accomplish some things that don’t exist in other states.”
Bousman says county commissioners can also do a better job educating the public about the public benefits that production agriculture provides, including wildlife, habitat and open space.
“We need to collectively convince the public that the time’s coming that, if they want to preserve those values and benefits, it’s about time they step up to the plate and pay for them,” he states. “It’s possible that county and local government could help promote the concept of term-limited conservation contracts that would reflect those public values that we, as producers, now produce for free.”
Bousman says county commissioners also need to increase communication and coordination with legislators, state agencies, ag groups and energy companies, and all of Wyoming’s natural resource users, that contribute to the economy of Wyoming’s communities and the state as a whole.
“We need to be involved in the legislative process, and at the national level we need to become more engaged and participate more actively in the federal planning process,” he says. “Provisions in the National Environmental Policy Act require that federal agencies provide local government, and the state, a seat at the table during the planning process. As county commissioners, we don’t take as much of an advantage of that ability as we should. There’s room to improve our position and better tweak the decisions made by federal agencies that end up affecting everybody.”
He says county commissioners can also work on improving their ability to develop coalitions with other counties and state agencies, with the goal of being more effective in lobbying at the national level.
“I recently heard information from the National Small Business Council that reflects the costs of federal regulations on the country, and it’s in the trillions of dollars, from the paperwork we have to do, and the things we have to do to abide by federal regulations,” he says, adding that if county commissioners equipped themselves with that kind of information they could be more effective when speaking with federal agencies about changes and additions to rules and regulations.
“My message to producers, conservation district people and legislators is to visit with your county commissioners at the local level, and educate them as to how important it is that they step up to the plate to better represent the folks out there who are contributing to the economy of their counties,” says Bousman.
As president of the association, Bousman says he looks forward to working with Wyoming’s ag groups, state agencies and conservation districts to be more effective in the state legislative process, as well as at the national level.