E&E Daily: Members convene in Mont. to discuss fires, forests, and parks

Several Western lawmakers are headed to Big Sky Country this weekend to discuss wildfires, conservation and the challenges facing the beleaguered National Park System.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), the respective chairmen of the Senate and Congressional Western caucuses, will host the group of members, congressional staffers, agency officials and a handful of industry guests in Bozeman, Mont., for a “Summer Western Policy Roundtable.”

Other confirmed members attending are Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Dan Newhouse of Washington and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas.

Staffers from multiple personal offices and committees, including the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources panels, as well as Kiel Weaver, an aide to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), also have RSVP’d, according to a guest list provided by the Congressional Western Caucus.

Other confirmed guests include representatives from Exxon Mobil Corp.; the National Marine Manufacturers Association; and the Salt River Project, an Arizona-based public utility company.

Daines is billing the event as an opportunity to “discuss and find solutions in energy development, forest management, and agricultural production,” according to excerpts from his prepared remarks.

“With representatives from the Senate and Congressional Western Caucuses and the administration in attendance, we have an opportunity today to hear directly from folks on the ground to learn more about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to balanced land management across the West. One of my top priorities continues to be improving management of our national forests,” the Montana Republican said.

The weekend’s activities, which also feature a tour of Yellowstone National Park and a fly-fishing excursion, come as deadly wildfires scorch California and as Congress and the Trump administration weigh how best to deal with this latest destructive and expensive disaster (E&E News PM, Aug. 16).

A Monday email from the Western Caucus Foundation to attendees read in part: “There are wildfires being reported near Bozeman. Please be aware that the air will likely be smoky and heavy.”

Administration officials scheduled to speak during the weekend meeting include P. Daniel Smith, acting director of the National Park Service; Todd Willens, Interior’s assistant deputy secretary; Christine Dawe, the Forest Service’s Region 1 director of renewable resources; and Tom Watson, a state conservationist with the Agriculture Department.

Individual discussion panels also will include speakers from Montana groups representing wood products, coal and petroleum, for instance, as well as representatives from the outdoor recreation community and the Nature Conservancy.

Participants will discuss agriculture production and conservation, “challenges and opportunities in wildfire and forest management,” wildlife, park infrastructure, and energy and natural resource development, according to the agenda.

Those who stay through next Monday also can attend a reception with the Crow Nation and the tribe’s closing days parade and powwow.

Gosar said he was looking forward to a “thoughtful and productive discussion” this weekend.

“There is no substitute for seeing things firsthand and hearing from local stakeholders about the issues that are impacting their daily lives,” the Congressional Western Caucus chairman said in a statement.

“It means a lot to have senior leadership from the Trump Administration in attendance,” Gosar added. “The members and staff on this trip are some of the key players in Congress and a big reason why the Western Caucus has had so much success.”