Farm Bureau lobbyist: 'We got nothing'
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A legislative session that started with high hopes for natural resources industries ended in frustration as lawmakers adjourned March 5 having done little in support of farming and forestry.
"The Legislature entered February looking like they were going to concentrate on jobs bills and on an agenda that would actually help rural Oregon," said Katie Fast, government affairs director for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
"As it moved forward, the politics started to play out and the normal naysayers of the environmental community made their opinions known on the state forest bill, on the Columbia River bill ... and on the wolf bill," Fast said.
"Those were three key bills, and we got nothing," she said.
Among scant positives in the 34-day session, Fast said, was passage of a tax credit for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.
"The wolf tax credit is the only positive thing we saw move through this Legislature," Fast said.
House Bill 4005, introduced by Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, passed both chambers by wide margins. It caps the credit at $37,500 annually.
A bill increasing logging on state forests, House Bill 4098, passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, but failed to surface in the joint Ways and Means Committee. It was openly opposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
A bill clarifying the state's authority to kill wolves that attack livestock, House Bill 4158, also cleared the House agriculture committee. Introduced by Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, at the request of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, HB4158 also passed the full House by a wide margin. But it failed to receive a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and never made it to the Senate floor.
"That was a critical piece of legislation for Wallowa County that they need right now," Fast said.
The failures of HB4158, HB4098 and HB4101, which would have increased irrigation water withdrawals from the Columbia River, show a lack of support for rural Oregon in Salem, Fast said.
"Looking at the state that Oregon is in right now ... where you have (rural) counties that are hitting 20 percent unemployment, I think Salem needs to do something that really impacts those communities and we haven't seen it yet," Fast said.
"We have an urgent need to do what we can to help the economy," said Dave Dillon, Oregon Farm Bureau executive vice president. "And there are bills like the water bill, like the wolf bill, where significant groundwork had already been laid over a period of years and sessions, and those were not able to move, even with fairly broad consensus supporting them."
Adding to frustrations, natural resource agencies suffered significant budget reductions, Fast said.
"Probably every agency we interact with on the ground was cut this session," Fast said.
Principally, Fast said, ODA took a significantly larger budget reduction that most agencies, and the Oregon Department of Forestry will be unable to fill several private forest stewardship positions that lawmakers supported last session.
"On the positive side ... we didn't see any major piece of legislative that impacted farmers and ranchers on the ground in a harmful way," Fast said.