2019 Legislative Wrap-Up

The 80th Oregon legislative session was turbulent and challenging for wetland conservation.  While we can’t declare 2019 a victory for wetland and water conservation, with the help of our community and partners,  there was a  heightened awareness in Salem  of  the critical role wetlands play in cleaning and recharging our water supply and mitigating climate change.

The first bill we alerted you about, HB2437, was passed by the legislature and senate in the waning days of the session. This bill granted an exemption from removal fill permits for the removal of up to 3,000 cubic yards of material per linear mile of intermittent streams over a five-year period without a removal fill permit.  This is a 5,900% increase over current law (50 cubic yard exemption). It also puts intermittent streams across the landscape at risk. This bill is not limited to man-made irrigation ditches, but allows removal of stream material from intermittent streams.

We are exploring options for requesting a veto and evaluation of the impacts to wetlands and waterways as a result of this bill. We will keep you updated. Visit https://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/for HB2437 to see how your representatives and legislators voted. If they voted no, take a moment to thank them for standing up for Oregon wetlands.

The second bill, HB2436, started out the session directing the Department of State Lands (DSL) to take partial assumption of the authority to administer permits for the discharge of dredge or fill materials under section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The current Federal regulatory process requires mandatory consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries when an agency action might affect a listed species. The purpose of the consultation is to ensure that the proposed action will not jeopardize a species, either by direct impact or by adversely impacting its critical habitat. With partial assumption the State would only be required to provide some protections for endangered species, but no requirement to seek the input of federal fish and wild agencies. Our concern was how Oregon would be able to provide equivalent protection without having the actual strength of ESA backing it, especially as we see resource agency staff capacity decline.

Toward the end of the session, 10 amendments were added that would have created a loophole for the Department of State Lands (DSL) to ignore environmental criteria when issuing removal fill permits, which could have put water quality, fish and wildlife and other environmental values across the state at risk. Further, the -10 amendments were not made public until the last days of session, with no hearing or other opportunity for public input on the significant changes to the Department’s removal fill process. The good news was that with all of your outreach to your senators and representatives the ten amendments were removed from the bill. The original bill, however was passed in both the house and senate on the last day of the session. Visit https://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/ for HB2436 to see how your representatives and legislators voted.

Over the coming year, we will be watching and engaging with DSL as they develop the process and evaluation of the state taking over partial assumption of the fill and removal program. We will keep you posted and alert you to any opportunities to comment and engage. Our goal will be to assure that the state wetland regulatory program maintains and when possible increases the protection of critical wetland resources.

The recently released United Nations Biodiversity Report found that over one million species are threatened with extinction, in part because 85% of the world’s wetlands have been lost to human development and 75% of the world’s freshwater resources are impacted by agriculture. This is the time for Oregon to be passing laws to protect our ecologically and economically valuable wetlands and streams, not passing laws that will fast track their destruction. We are looking to 2020 as the year for being proactive rather than reactive to wetland conservation.

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