The Oregon Legislature is meeting for just one month this year, and is expected to be wrapped up with its work by early March. With significant budget challenges and very little time, it is disappointing to see that a number of legislators have chosen to focus their attention on controversial proposals that weaken protections for Oregon’s environment.
The legislature has taken up bills to reduce protections for endangered wolves and elusive mountain lions, mandate high logging levels on state forests, and calling for increased clearcutting on federal lands.
Here’s a sampling of some of the worst bills the Oregon Legislature is spending its short February session debating. As of March 1, the Sierra Club had succeeded in blocking three of the four following bills, with only the non-binding SJM 201 passing.
HB 4158 was introduced at the request of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and is specifically intended to overturn an environmental lawsuit over the state’s current approach of killing wolves believed to be involved in attacks on livestock. In the fall of 2011, a judge blocked a state kill order targeting two wolves in NE Oregon’s Imnaha pack, including the pack’s ‘alpha’ male, which would result in functional elimination of the first wolf pack to begin breeding in Oregon in more than six decades. One of the Imnaha pack’s offspring (OR-7, also known as ‘Journey’) has captured international attention in its 1000 mile dispersal into western Oregon and northern California. While Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan allows the state to kill wolves involved in ‘chronic’ livestock depredation, many have argued that the state and ranchers are not taking significant enough non-lethal measures to prevent wolf/livestock conflicts before resorting to lethal control of Oregon’s endangered wolf population. There are currently fewer than 30 wolves in Oregon.
HB 4098 would drastically change management on more than 500,000 acres of the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam State Forests to make timber production the dominant use. This would have significant negative impacts to water quality, recreation, and salmon recovery and mark a significant rollback of current state forest management plans which require a more balanced approach between logging and other uses of state lands. The bill specifically mandates that annual logging levels on state forest lands be ’95 percent of the annual amount of harvestable timber expected to be grown on state forest lands.’ It would run directly counter to an initiative announced by Governor Kitzhaber in November 2011 to create long-term protected areas on state lands designed to prevent logging on high conservation value lands in state forests. This bill, in contrast, would essentially maximize logging and roadbuilding on publicly owned state forest lands at the expense of fish, wildlife, recreation, clean water and carbon sequestration beginning in January, 2013.
HB 4119 creates a ‘pilot program’ to allow hunters using one or more dogs to pursue cougars in order ‘to reduce cougar conflicts and to assess cougar populations.’ This unsportsmanlike practice has been banned in Oregon since 1994, and nearly every legislative session since proponents of hound hunting have tried to weaken the ban. This bill allows counties to request inclusion in the pilot project, which could effectively bring back hound hunting across much of the state. This bill, and the others before it, are based on the false assumption that Oregon has a cougar over-population problem and that bringing back hound hunting is the only tool to protect the public. However, there are currently more cougars killed each year now by hunters than there were before the hound hunting ban was instituted in 1994, and the state has numerous tools at its disposal to target the occasional problem cougar that wanders to close to human communities, including the use of dogs by state agents. This bill is an effort to make hound hunting a recreational practice aimed at reducing overall cougar numbers, rather than a judiciously used management tool at the disposal of state agents to address specific problem animals.
Senate Joint Memorial 201 calls on the US Congress and President to hand over roughly 2.2 million acres of western Oregon Bureau of Land Management forestland to western Oregon counties so that they can exercise management authority. While little more than a letter to the President and Congress, SJM 201 contains a number of far-fetched claims, including that strategies to protect forests on BLM lands have led to increased greenhouse gas emissions from these forests (the opposite is true) and that that local control of these lands by counties and private interests will lead to balanced management of these lands to benefit the public interest. Local control would in fact likely be an environmental disaster, with a return to large-scale clearcutting that has put many runs of coastal salmon on the list of threatened and endangered species. Western Oregon BLM lands contain roughly 1 million acres of old growth forest unlikely to be protected should these lands fall into control of Oregon counties and timber companies, whose goal would be to manage them for revenue production.