Natural Resource Legislative Review 2012
This report aims to look at Legislative impact of the 2012 Session on natural resource issues which is increasingly important as several issues relate to public and livestsock safety from wildlife harm and also the effectiveness of Oregon’s various agencies that currently spends over $800 million to manage its natural resources.
Oregon’s first annual Legislative Assembly has ended with limited measureable advancement on important sportsman and wildlife issues. The Legislature passed a wolf depredation tax credit. Critics countered that compensating ranchers for related loss of livestock is the best approach to the wolf problem. The Legislature did not address Oregon’s exploding cougar population. Hunters now face potential penalties for not submitting to burdensome reporting requirements. Separately a renewed battle is brewing between commercial and sport fishermen over gillnets—an issue that will likely culminate in a November ballot initiative. The following is a status update on these issues.
Compensating for Wolf Depredation
The Legislature has determined that the best way to deal with Oregon’s predatory wolf population is to compensate ranchers for related loss of livestock. Lawmakers deposited 100,000 into a compensation fund during the 2011 legislative session, and then created a wolf depredation tax credit up to $37,500 per tax year just last month. The recent legislative action is good for Oregon ranchers who are powerless to protect their livestock against wolves, but taxpayers are now paying for wolf depredation. This approach opens the door to fraud and abuse since it’s not always easy to verify what sort of animal killed livestock. Moreover, environmental advocacy organizations who pushed for protections for the gray wolf pledged responsibility to provide such compensation in a deal it struck with the public back when the issue was gaining ascendancy. The deal agreed to by Western states was that gray wolves would be reintroduced back into Yellowstone Park, among other places, if environmental groups advocating for reintroduction paid for the damage wolves wreak on commercial livestock. Specifically, Defenders of Wildlife’s promise that it would provide compensation to ranchers was a major factor in getting states to allow the relocation of gray wolves within their borders. The fund operated until late last year when the federal government passed legislation to provide certain states (including Oregon) a total of $1 million in matching compensation funds.
Many sportsman and taxpayer advocates agree that gray wolves, which are no longer on the federal endangered species list, should now be managed the way other wildlife is managed—through responsible, quota-based hunting. This would eliminate the need for special compensation. According to Oregon’s Wolf Compensation and Management Plan, “The species is not now (and is not likely in the foreseeable future to be) in danger of extinction in any significant portion of its range in Oregon or in danger of becoming endangered.” HB 4158, which would have enabled ranchers to eliminate predatory wolves, never made it to a vote during the February session.
Managing Oregon’s Cougar Population
Oregon’s policy for hunting cougars continues to bewilder hunting enthusiasts, as well as wildlife management groups. Among other things, the state has lowered the cost of cougar tags to encourage private citizens to hunt cougars so long as they don’t hunt with dogs. Hunting cougars without dogs, however, is viewed by many as virtually impossible. Interestingly, the state tries to manage its cougar population by hunting cougars with dogs. In fact, Oregon pays private citizens, normally prohibited, to do the hunting on its behalf. Consequently, taxpayers pay for the state to hunt cougars when private citizens stand ready to hunt at no cost. Rep. Sherri Sprenger proposed HB 4119 during the February session, which would have permitted counties to conduct a pilot program allowing private citizens to hunt cougars with dogs if a given county determines it has a cougar problem. The measure never made it out of a House committee. Increased cougar problems results in increased governments costs trying to contain it. This is a concern among taxpayers.
Burdensome Reporting for Hunters
Four years ago, the state began requiring hunters to file a report for every deer or elk, bear, cougar, pronghorn, and turkey tag purchased, regardless of whether it resulted in a kill. It’s estimated that less than 40 percent of Oregon hunters reported for the most recent hunting season. Until now, the state has chosen to incentivize reporting by dangling a chance to get additional hunting privileges through a lottery for those who do report. Starting in 2013, however, deer and elk hunters who don’t report will face a $25 fine. Eventually, the state is expected to blacklist hunters who refuse to participate and deny them new tags if they demonstrate no evidence of reporting the prior year. As actual reporting increases, new bureaucratic expenditures will most likely be needed to confirm, process, and manage the program. It’s unclear what this government expansion costs taxpayers.
Battle Brewing over Gillnets
Sports fishermen and their conservation allies have filed three possible gillnet prevention petitions—one of which will end up on the state ballot come November. Gillnets are used in commercial fishing and catch large amounts of fish, including untended catch. Petition proponents argue they diminish salmon runs and unintentionally devastate a variety of fish populations. They also believe that reducing or eliminating gillnet fishing would increase other forms of economic activities associated with sport fishing. One possible petition bans commercial non-tribal gillnet fishing in Oregon “inland waters,” as well as bans purchasing non-tribal gillnet-caught fish. Another petition limits Oregon’s non-Indian commercial salmon fishing to designated off-channel areas in the lower Columbia River. A third petition approved by the Oregon Supreme Court last week bans all non-selective gillnets from the Lower Columbia. The Coastal Conservation Association will decide which ballot to present for a public vote in November. A similar petition drive failed in 2010 as proponents lacked money to fund a meaningful campaign and abandoned their plan to put the issue to a vote. The Coastal Conservation Association appears confident that it has the support and the financial backing to now succeed. These initiative actions pinpoint on how policy changes are beginning to be challenged from the initiative process.