SALEM, Oregon – As the 2012 Oregon legislative session wound to a close on March 5, the Sierra Club declared the session a major success for Oregon’s forests and wildlife.
Significant legislation actively opposed by the Sierra Club that would have mandated unsustainably high logging levels on state forest lands, authorized lethal control of endangered wolves, and overturned a voter approved ban on hunting mountains lions with dogs all died during the short session.
Republican leaders in the evenly divided House of Representatives had made mandating higher logging levels across roughly 800,000 acres of state forestlands a top priority. The bill, HB 4098, was part of what has become a perennial effort by a handful of legislators to mandate high logging levels on state lands. But the bill was met with stiff opposition from Governor Kitzhaber and a coalition of conservation and fishing groups including the Sierra Club. While the bill passed one House committee, it died in another after a strong push by the Sierra Club and our allies.
“Oregonians want to see greater protection for old growth forests, fish, wildlife, clean water and recreational opportunities on state lands like the Tillamook, Clatsop and Elliott State Forests,” said Ivan Maluski, Conservation Director of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club. “The annual effort at the legislature to ramp up clearcutting to unsustainable levels makes no sense, does nothing to help our economy when raw log exports are at an all time high, and ignores the tremendous economic value of recreation, clean water and salmon fisheries on public lands in the state.”
Another bill, HB 4158, would have cleared the way for killing wolves in Oregon currently protected under the state Endangered Species Act. Brought by the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association in what has become an annual attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves, this bill would have overturned a recent court ruling barring the elimination of half of Oregon’s Imnaha wolf pack, and cleared the way for greater lethal control of Oregon’s fragile, recovering wolf population, which numbers fewer than 30 animals. The bill passed the House with significant opposition, but fell flat in the Senate with thousands of Oregonians weighing in in opposition and a strong lobbying effort by the Sierra Club and other wildlife protection groups.
“With so much important business to take care of this month, it was profoundly disappointing that the legislature spent significant time debating whether to undermine protections for Oregon’s endangered wolves,” said Maluski. “Despite the objections of anti-wolf interests, the presence of wolves in Oregon brings both ecological and economic benefits to the state, and wolf recovery has become one of Oregon’s greatest conservation success stories and something we should all be proud of.”
Another piece of legislation, HB 4119, would have allowed recreational hunting of cougars with dogs on a county by county level, a rollback of Measure 18, which outlawed the practice in 1994. The state retains numerous tools to address cougars when they threaten livestock, pets or people, including the use of dogs by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agents in limited situations. Despite this, some groups have been pushing to overturn the ban on recreational hound hunting since voters outlawed the unsportsmanlike practice nearly two decades ago. The bill passed a House committee but died in another, with the Sierra Club and other organizations that helped create the ban making a compelling case against rolling back the voter approved wildlife protection measure.
In a key conservation advancement, the Legislature also voted to create three new Marine Reserves in SB 1510. The Sierra Club has long supported an Oregon system of marine reserves, and this was a top priority of Governor Kitzhaber’s. The Legislature moved to act this year under threat of a potential citizen ballot initiative or executive order from the Governor designating larger numbers or marine reserves, which would be off-limits to fishing to help dwindling fish stocks recover and protect sensitive near-shore ocean habitats.
Despite a number of major threats this session, when the dust had settled, the 2012 Oregon Legislature was clearly a success for Oregon’s environment.