The Conservation Column
By Juliet Grable
This month’s column highlights the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between conservation groups and the timber industry, which was signed in early February.
This breakthrough occurred when Governor Kate Brown stepped in to mediate a resolution between the two sides, each of which had been planning to introduce ballot measures this year.
Conservation groups were planning to introduce a ballot measure to reform the Oregon Forest Practices Act; supporting its passage was an item on the Oregon Audubon Chapters (OAC) Conservation Priority List.
I reached out to Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for the Audubon Society of Portland, to explain the intent and significance of the ballot measure and subsequent agreement brokered by Governor Brown:
“Oregon Audubon Chapters made passage of the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) Reform Initiative on the November ballot a priority for 2020,” he wrote. “The need for a ballot initiative was driven by decades of futility working through the Oregon Legislature and through the Oregon Board of Forestry to reform the OFPA, which provides some of the weakest standards for managing private forest lands in the Western United States.”
In response to this ballot measure, the timber industry introduced three counter measures which sought to undermine the OFPA reform measure and Oregon’s land use system in general.
“We were anticipating two very challenging battles this fall–one to pass our measure and another to defeat theirs,” wrote Sallinger.
In early 2020, the Governor’s office offered to try to mediate a resolution to this impending battle at the ballot box. Intense negotiations between conservation groups, represented by Oregon Wild, Wild Salmon Center and Crag Law Center, and timber companies resulted in the February agreement, in which both sides agreed to terminate their ballot initiatives.
In the agreement, signed on Feb. 10, the cooperating parties agreed to “pursue a science-informed policy development process, rooted in compromise, to evaluate and jointly recommend substantive and procedural changes to Oregon forest practice laws and regulations…”
The timber companies agreed to new restrictions and notification requirements on aerial pesticide spraying and to pursue a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for the OFPA within 18 months.
Portland Audubon has been the lead for Oregon Audubon Chapters in this effort and was a signatory to the agreement.
“We originally supported the ballot measure because at the time it represented the only real path forward to reform the OFPA,” says Sallinger. “We are supporting this agreement now, because the threat of the ballot measure brought the timber industry to the table in a way that allows us to make immediate progress on pesticide issues and offers a viable pathway to much more comprehensive reform of the OFPA in the near future.”
Read the full MOU here:
Here’s a link to a story that appeared in OPB about the agreement:
A bill to limit aerial spraying
The centerpiece of the forest agreement is HB 4168, a bill that places stricter limits on aerial spraying. Companies spray herbicides from helicopters in order to kill plants that compete with tree seedlings following a clearcut. More than 800,000 pounds of herbicides were sprayed on forestland in 2008, the last year Oregon required amounts to be reported.
When sprayed aerially, toxic chemicals such as glyphosate, 2,4-D and atrazine can drift long distances and end up in streams, rivers, and other waterbodies that serve as drinking water sources or critical habitat for fish and other creatures.
HB 4168 would:
• Require timber companies and small-woodland owners to notify nearby residents when they aerially spray pesticides following a harvest.
• Prompt the development of technology that would be used to notify residents when spraying was to occur, and establish a system to send real-time warnings to residents.
• Creates a 300-foot no spray buffer zone around schools and homes. (The current setback is 60 feet.)
• Establishes stricter buffers around fish-bearing streams, increasing setbacks from 60 feet to 75 feet.
• Directs the state Board of Forestry to adopt rules regarding certain salmon species for the Rogue-Siskiyou region. (These rules were adopted for the rest of the state in 2017.)
• Establish 50-foot aerial spraying buffers on all headwater streams—waterways which feed into fish-bearing streams and rivers. No buffers exist for them currently.
One of the ballot measures backed by the environmental groups would have established a 500-foot aerial spraying buffer on all waters in the state. HB 4168 is a compromise, but it’s better than no action. It’s worth noting that the timber industry helped kill a similar proposal in 2015.
Not a done deal
Unfortunately, the walkout by GOP Senators during the 2020 legislative session may jeopardize this fragile compact. The walkout, intended to prevent a vote on SB 1530, an historic cap-and-trade bill which limits green-house gas emissions, was triggered when the bill passed in the House subcommittee and was sent to the Sen-ate for a vote. But the walkout—still ongoing, as of this writing—will also preclude a vote on many other bills, including HB 4168. As was noted, the agreement hinges on passing this legislation.
Some who are against cap-and-trade believe the governor was using the forest deal as leverage to help pass SB 1530. Here’s an excerpt from a follow-up story that explores some of the politics:
The governor might insist cap-and-trade and the forest deal aren’t connected. But Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, sees a tie.
Initially, he said the historic forest management agreement undercut his ability to block the climate bill. A day later, his tone changed. Republicans aren’t beholden to large corporate timber industries, he said. In other words: he’s willing to blow up the forest management deal if it means stopping cap-and-trade (emphasis added).
“What they basically said is if you want the timber industry’s pesticide bill to pass, you’re going to have to stick around for cap-and-trade. And we simply can’t do that,” Baertschiger told conservative radio host Lars Larson Thursday. “So the timber industry didn’t do us any favor. I don’t know who was advising them politically, but I would give them their walking papers.”
Sean Stevens with the conservation group Oregon Wild said it’s unclear what happens if the aerial pesticide bill doesn’t pass this session.
“From our perspective, we sincerely hope and expect that a landmark agreement of this magnitude can bring elected officials together by the end of session,” he wrote in an email. “If they fail, we’ll all have to reassess where we are at.”