Crop depredation

A bill headed for a vote in the Oregon Senate would require wildlife regulators to consider elk overpopulation when issuing landowner damage tags.

Oregon wildlife regulators would be required to consider elk overpopulation when issuing tags to curb property damage under a bill approved for a vote in the Senate.

Senate Bill 301, which would add the overpopulation provision, cleared the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on April 8 with a unanimous “do pass” recommendation.

Farm and ranch organizations that support SB 301 say the additional consideration is needed because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife currently issues tags based on historical and active damage rather than herd size.

The bill initially encountered resistance from hunting groups that feared it would greatly expand the number of people who’d qualify for such landowner damage tags, potentially leading to the reckless killing of elk.

However, the version of SB 301 headed for a vote on the Senate floor doesn’t include controversial language replacing “landowner” with “person” that hunting groups claimed would have adverse consequences.

The bill would also make permanent the landowner damage tag program, which is currently set to expire in 2020. The House has already approved a separate bill eliminating that sunset as well.

Another piece of legislation that would create an “excessive elk damage pilot program” has died in the House, but its sponsors are discussing potential regulatory steps that could provide ODFW with more flexibility in managing elk without revising the law.

Cage-free egg production

The committee has also unanimously approved cage-free housing standards for egg-laying chickens under Senate Bill 1019, which was supported by animal advocates as well as Oregon’s food processing industry.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture would have to implement regulations for cage-free egg production by 2024 under the bill, which is headed for a vote on the House floor.

“We found common ground and we’re looking to move forward together,” said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the U.S. “The future is cage-free and this bill reflects it.”

The legislation, which has been in the works for two years in Oregon and Washington, provides regulatory certainty for egg producers while meeting the expectations of consumers, said Mike Freese, lobbyist for Food Northwest, which represents processors.

Stored water rights

A bill allowing Oregon water regulators to alter the purpose of stored water rights has won the committee’s approval but doesn’t include more comprehensive reforms supported by agriculture groups.

Under the version of Senate Bill 946 approved by the committee, water rights holders could switch the purpose of water in a reservoir from agricultural to conservation or municipal uses, for example.

Earlier amendments proposed to SB 946 would have permitted the Oregon Water Resources Department to also change the location and diversion point of certain ponds and reservoirs.

However, those provisions were opposed by environmental groups who argued they’d allow existing regulations to be side-stepped.

“There was a lot of effort to get there. We were not able to get there,” said Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland, of the more comprehensive version of SB 946.

However, negotiations over the transfer of stored water rights are likely to resume in future legislative sessions.

“In a moment of weakness, I have committed to continue to work on this issue,” said Dembrow, who chairs the committee.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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