2012 Oregon Legislature – Wolves, Cougars and Forests Edition

February 4, 2012

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem

The Oregon Legislature is meeting for just one month in 2012 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, gutting state forest protections, and promoting increased logging on federal forests

Here’s a sampling of some of the worst bills the Oregon Legislature is spending its short February session debating:

HB 4158 – Killing Endangered Wolves to Protect Livestock

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 – Maximizing State Forest Clearcutting

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 85 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 – Hound Hunting of Cougars

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.

SJM 201 – Local Control Over BLM Forests to Increase Logging

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, or for Congress to pass controversial federal legislation to turn 1.5 million acres of these lands into a ‘timber trust’ with expanded clearcutting and weakened environmental protections. 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.


2011 Legislature – End of Session Edition

June 18, 2011

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem

The 2011 Oregon Legislature is entering its final days. Scheduled to wrap up work by June 30, some are predicting the session will end as early as the week of June 20. Many major budget bills are done and on the way to the Governor’s desk. The Sierra Club will be scoring the votes of legislators and the legislature as a whole once the session is over, but based on work completed so far, this is shaping up to be a fairly lackluster session for the environment.

While there have been some positive accomplishments, most notably a significant overhaul of Oregon’s bottle bill, and likely passage of school weatherization legislation early next week (see below), the Sierra Club and other conservation groups have had to focus on defense, stopping bad bills that would: ramp up unsustainable logging on state forests; make it easier to shoot wolves; overturn voter approved bans on hunting cougars with dogs; stop the DEQ from adopting new water quality protection rules; exempt biomass energy from greenhouse gas reporting programs; and expedite state permitting for proposed LNG pipelines.

Meanwhile, many positive bills have stalled, including a ban on single use plastic bags; an expansion of Oregon’s marine reserve system; a ban on the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s food containers; the creation of a system of protected conservation areas on state lands; and an effort create jobs through energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

Despite this, a key priority of the Sierra Club and Governor John Kitzhaber is on the right path in the legislature’s last days. HB 2960, the ‘cool schools’ bill, will set up a fund to allow schools across the state to weatherize and upgrade their heating and cooling systems. This will create jobs, save school districts money on utility bills over the long term so that more money can be invested in education, and make schools more comfortable and better learning environments for kids. This bill passed the House early last week, and is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Monday, June 20. Please email your Senators in support of HB 2960 TODAY!

Thank you for your support this legislative session.

LNG Pipeline Bill Passes

May 31, 2011

Update: HB 2700 passed the Oregon Senate in late May with bipartisan opposition. Multiple Senators voting ‘no’ registered their strong concerns over the impact of this bill on proposed LNG pipelines, including the Pacific Connector which would cross Oregon’s Rogue River to ship overseas gas to California or export domestic natural gas from Wyoming. HB 2700 now awaits action by the Governor, who is likely to sign the legislation.

Background on HB 2700:

For the third session in a row, a bill to change how state-issued wetland removal-fill permits are granted for LNG pipelines and other ‘linear projects’ was introduced. After successfully blocking the bill twice over LNG concerns, it passed the House and Senate in 2011 despite efforts to amend it to exclude LNG. The bills was one of the top ‘jobs’ bills promoted by Oregon industry groups this year.

While the bill applies to more than just gas pipelines, it was originally introduced at the request of LNG companies seeking to expedite the Department of State Lands wetland removal/fill permitting process for the development of hundreds miles of proposed LNG pipelines in northwest and southwest Oregon. Pipelines connected to proposed LNG import terminals would cross hundreds of the state’s wetlands, rivers, streams, farms and forests.

In northern Oregon, HB 2700 would have helped expedite the permitting and potential development of the 217-mile Palomar pipeline across the Mt. Hood National Forest and dozens of small farms, woodlots, streams and rivers in the Willamette Valley, as well as the 110 mile Oregon LNG pipeline. The Palomar pipeline was associated with the now-bankrupt Bradwood Landing LNG terminal, and the eastern portion also could have connected to the pipeline proposed to serve the Oregon LNG import terminal near Astoria. In early March, the Palomar pipeline proposal was formally withdrawn, a major victory for now, but the threat of the 110 mile Oregon LNG pipeline and eastern segment of Palomar still exists.

In southwest Oregon, HB 2700 will speed the permitting for the controversial 220-mile long Pacific Connector pipeline, which would cross rural properties, old growth forests, and important salmon-bearing rivers including the Rogue, Umpqua, Coquille, and Klamath on its way to ship gas to California as soon as the pipeline developers apply for permits. They’ve been previously blocked from applying  due to opposition from hundreds of affected landowners. This pipeline is associated with the proposed Jordan Cove LNG import terminal in Coos Bay. The developers of this pipeline sued the state of Oregon in 2010 for not allowing them to apply for wetland removal/fill permits without first having permission from over 200 affected landowners. With the passage of HB 2700, state permits needed for this speculative and damaging project can move forward.

State Legislative Update – May 20, 2011

March 16, 2011

The Oregon Legislature is in full swing, and is scheduled to adjourn by the end of June. The following is an update on key pieces of legislation the Sierra Club is tracking and urging you to weigh in on at this time:

Banning Single Use Plastic Bags – SB 536 SB 536 is currently awaiting action in the Rules  Committee – it is reported to be only one vote short of passing in the Senate. Click here to send an email to your Senator today and urge them to vote ‘YES’ on SB 536. The ‘ban the bag’ bill is facing stiff opposition from out-of-state chemical companies that make plastic bags. Oregonians currently use over 1.7 billion disposable single-use plastic bags each year. These bags often end up in landfills or our roadsides, rivers and streams. Even so-called ‘recyclable’ plastic bags are often shipped overseas where they may end up clogging landfills, entering the Pacific Ocean, or being incinerated.

Banning Bisphenol A (BPA) from children’s drinking containers – SB 695SB 695 passed the Senate in early April (20-9) and received a public hearing in the House Energy, Environment and Water Committee on May 10. It is now stalled and needs your support to secure a vote in the Oregon House. Send an email to your legislators today urging them to vote ‘YES’ on SB 695. BPA is a synthetic estrogen that is used to make plastic bottles and food can linings. BPA in containers can leach into foods and liquids, and growing children are especially vulnerable to its harmful effects. This bipartisan legislation would ban BPA from baby bottles, infant formula containers, and water bottles, while requiring labeling of canned foods that are lined with BPA.  Even small amounts of BPA can be harmful and numerous scientific studies have linked the chemical – banned in Canada, the European Union and nine states – to health issues such as abnormal brain development, early onset of puberty, and low sperm counts in men.

Energy Efficiency in Schools – HB 2960 – Sets up a new Clean Energy Deployment program to provide grants and loans for weatherization upgrades in K-12 schools across Oregon. Such a program would increase jobs in the weatherization industry while reducing energy consumption and saving school districts money on energy bills. A top priority of Governor Kitzhaber’s, this bill awaits action in the Ways and Means Committee, and is scheduled for a hearing and possible action on May 24. Please contact your State Legislators today to urge the passage of HB 2960 to help create jobs in energy efficiency in schools.

LNG Pipeline Fast Track – HB 2700B – For the third session in a row, the Sierra Club is fighting a bill that would make it easier for LNG companies to apply for state issued wetland removal-fill permits necessary for pipeline construction. This bill passed the House with strong bipartisan opposition from around the state on March 2 and now awaits action in the Senate Business, Transportation and Economic Development Committee. The Sierra Club is working hard to amend the bill to exclude LNG pipelines. Click here to send an email to your Senator to urge them to vote ‘NO’ on HB 2700B unless it is amended to exclude LNG pipelines.

State Forests – HB 2001 and more – HB 2001 would make timber production the primary purpose of publicly owned state lands like the Tillamook, Clatsop, Elliott, and Santiam State Forests. It is currently stalled in the Ways and Means Committee and though it would mark an extreme shift away from from a balanced management on state lands, it has been identified as a top ‘jobs’ bills for a coalition of industry groups. This means it could be alive until the final days of the legislative session, with our state forests once again becoming a political football. To underscore this, a similar bill to ramp up logging in the Tillamook State Forest that was presumed dead months ago, SB 464, was pulled to the Senate Floor for a vote on May 18 for some posturing by Senate Republicans on logging. Thankfully, their effort failed.

Wolves –  In late April, two of the more extreme anti-wolf bills listed (HB 3561 and HB 3563) died in the House Agriculture Committee after multiple hearings, but no committee vote. Instead, the Oregon House passed passed HB 3562 (51-7), which would allow shooting wolves in ‘self-defense’ and could open the door to poaching some of Oregon’s fewer than 25 wolves. HB 3562 has stalled in the Senate where it awaits action in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Its proponents are aggressively pushing for a hearing and committee vote before the session ends. Please send your state Senator an email TODAY urging them to vote NO on HB 3562.

HB 2440 – biomass and carbon

February 15, 2011

Update – A hearing on HB 2440 was held on April 18. The Sierra Club testified against the bill, while the timber industry group behind the legislation was unwilling to defend the bill’s merits. It died without further action, though we can expect similar legislation to appear in future sessions.

HB 2440 – This bill would declare air emissions from burning biomass to be ‘carbon neutral emissions’ regardless of the source of the biomass materials. It would further exempt biomass energy facilities from greenhouse gas emissions permitting and even basic reporting on the volume of carbon emissions they release each year. It is generally well understood that burning biomass does in fact release carbon dioxide, and that different sources of biomass have different carbon impacts. In reality, energy produced from burning wood that is a byproduct the type of logging operations common in Oregon would take many decades to be considered ‘carbon neutral.’ If biomass is derived from logging old growth forests, ‘carbon neutrality’ may not be attained for centuries. Sierra Club position: oppose

Wolf bills

February 2, 2011

Update: In late April, two of the more extreme anti-wolf bills listed below (HB 3561 and HB 3563) died in the House Agriculture Committee after multiple hearings, but no committee vote. However, the Oregon House passed passed HB 3562 (51-7), which would allow people to kill wolves in ‘self defense,’ which could encourage poaching, while playing into unrealistic fears that wolves pose a threat to humans. HB 3562 ultimately died in the Senate in May without a hearing. And as noted below, a conflict reduction and wolf depredation compensation bill supported by the Sierra Club (HB 3560) is on track for passage. HB 3560 creates a fund to help pay for efforts to reduce wolf/livestock conflict, while compensating ranchers for livestock proven to have been killed by wolves. Such a program is an important step in ensuring the success of Oregon’s wolf management plan. 

Here is a list of the full scope of bills that have been under consideration in the Oregon Legislature this year that would roll back protections for Oregon’s wolves. HB 3561 lowers by half the number breeding pairs across the state that would trigger taking the wolf off the state’s threatened species list under the Oregon Wolf Management Plan. SB 583 would remove wolves from the Oregon’s threatened species list and prevent the State Fish and Wildlife Commissioner from re-listing the wolf in the future if current populations drop. HB 3562 would allow a person to kill a wolf in ‘self-defense.’ Because wolves pose no credible threat to humans and because the Endangered Species Act and state law already allow this in the extremely unlikely event of a wolf attack on humans, HB 3562 could embolden poachers or lead to people killing Oregon’s limited wolves out of fear, despite any imminent or realistic threat. With fewer than 25 wolves currently living in Oregon, and Congressional action to remove wolves from the endangered species list, the Oregon legislature should not be making it easier to poach or kill wolves. HB 3563 would allow a person to kill a wolf it is within 500 feet of their home or if it is chasing livestock or working animals. All of these bills would mark a major step backwards from the compromise Oregon Wolf Management Plan and would threaten Oregon’s slowly recovering wolf population. There are likely fewer than 30 wolves living in Oregon, and there are only two known established wolf packs, both living in the northeast corner of the state. The Sierra Club opposes all of the above listed bills.

HB 3013 and HB 3560 both create a state compensation program for livestock lost due to wolf depredation. The Sierra Club supports this concept, and ultimately, HB 3560 was amended to create a reasonable compensation program. On June 17, the Ways and Means committee began taking action on HB 3560, with passage likely before the end of session.

SB 695 and HB 3689

February 2, 2011

SB 695 and HB 3689 –  This bipartisan legislation would ban the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles, infant formula containers, and water bottles, while requiring labeling of canned foods that are lined with BPA. BPA is a synthetic estrogen that is used to make plastic bottles and food can linings, and BPA in containers can leach into foods and liquids. Growing children are especially vulnerable to its effects. Even small amounts of BPA can be harmful and numerous scientific studies have linked the chemical – banned in Canada, the European Union and nine states – to health issues such as abnormal brain development, early onset of puberty, and low sperm counts in men.

Update: SB 695 passed the Senate on April 7 with strong bipartisan support but languished in the House under strong opposition from Republican leadership and the chemical industry. In late May, Representative Ben Cannon took the unusual step of submitting a ‘discharge petition’ to force the bill to the House floor vote. The effort, which required 31 signatures, fell just short. In response, Reps. Cannon and Clem introduced HB 3689, which has 31 co-sponsors. It now awaits action in the House Rules Committee, where it has been sitting since June 9, with time running out by the day. Please contact your State Representative TODAY and urge them to pass HB 3689!