By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
Last updated: May 21st, 2021
T he Oregon state legislative session began in February, and it has been quite a busy year. As the session starts to wrap up, a number of bills have died in committee and we continue to fight to pass, amend, and not pass others.
Given the economic impacts of COVID-19, departmental budgets have remained relatively flat. There has been a general hesitancy for bills with large price tags. However, ODFW's recommended budget did include the creation of a formal Habitat Division within the Department (more details below).
With the shift to online legislating, it’s never been easier to participate in the political process and stand up for the causes you believe in. The Oregon Legislative Information System is an online hub for everything happening in Salem. You can track bills, see where they are in the legislative process, attend public hearings, and provide testimony on behalf of the fishing community. As our priority bills go to hearing, we’ll be sending out action alerts so you can weigh-in to advocate for salmon and steelhead. Action alerts take 10 minutes or less to complete, and they connect you directly to your legislators for maximum impact!
SB 320 would authorize ODFW to provide group fishing licenses for non-profit programs serving active-duty service members and veterans. If passed, it would ease the financial burden on non-profits providing veterans with treatment, inclusion, and community through recreational angling. It would also reduce the barrier for individual veterans to participate in our veteran's program. These types of programs are vital in helping service members heal and transition back into civilian life in Oregon. Board Members Tim Lenihan and Bob Oleson have been fighting for this authorization for three years, and despite 100% bipartisan support in the Senate Veterans and Senate Natural Resources committee and the Senate floor last year, the bill was not finalized before the end of the session.
This year, Tim and Bob worked with the Senate Veteran’s Committee to reintroduce the bill this session in hopes of getting it across the finish line. Tim Lenihan has testified about the importance of this bill at a number of hearings with the Senate Veteran’s and Emergency Preparedness Committee and House Committee on Veteran's and Emergency Management. 129 people responded to our action alert, sending 516 emails in support of the bill to Senators. They worked with ODFW's staff to develop an amended version of the bill to reduce the financial burden and establish it as a pilot program sunsetting in 2027.
5/21 UPDATE: On May 18th, the House Veterans and Emergency Management Committee had a supportive and lively conversation about the bill during their public hearing giving us hope that they will vote to send the bill to the house floor with a recommendation that it be passed during the work session scheduled for May 27th.
The Columbia River Endorsement, an additional $9.75 fee for recreational angling in the Columbia River, was established to provide funding to implement key components of the Columbia River Fisheries Policy Reform package, which was adopted by Oregon and Washington in 2013 to resolve persistent conflicts and provide stability for non-treaty fisheries management in the lower mainstem Columbia River. It generates approximately $2 million each year.
Northwest Steelheaders supported instituting the endorsement fee because ODFW explicitly stated that the endorsement funds would support “the transition to eliminate non-tribal commercial gill nets on the lower mainstem Columbia River and provide additional salmon and steelhead for sport fishing”. Unfortunately, while non-treaty gillnets have been removed during spring and summer seasons and recreational fisheries are prioritized in allocation decisions, the Reform package has not been fully implemented. Moreover, there have been repeated attempts to undermine its components, most recently by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Accordingly, Steelheaders and a coalition of other fishing organizations did not support the original version of SB 59, which sought to make this fee permanent. Throughout the session, we have provided testimony at numerous public hearings and meetings, along with the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Coastal Conservation Alliance, and Trout Unlimited. All of these testimonies centered around the need for any renewal of this fee to be (a) temporary and (b) legislatively tied to implementing the original 2013 Columbia River Reforms.
Ultimately, we were able to coordinate with ODFW to develop an amended version of the bill that incorporates explicit language that the funds should be used to "advance selective harvest practices", "improve monitoring and date regarding fishery-related mortality", and requires the ODFW to publish an annual accounting of what endorsement funds are specifically supporting. Most importantly, we were able to secure language the requires ODFW to waive the endorsement fee if they decrease recreational fisheries allocations or expanding non-treaty gill nets in the lower mainstem Columbia River.
On April 8th, Chair Golden carried the bill for a vote in the Senate. The floor voted 22-7 to advance this amended bill to the House of Representatives for consideration. Senators Anderson, Boquist, Heard, Johnson, Linthicum, Findley, and Hansell voted against it.
5/21 UPDATE: On 4/27, our coalition testified at the public hearing in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Weber (R-Tillamook) testified in opposition to prioritizing recreational allocations given impacts to the commercial fishing industry. Instead, she felt the fee should be allowed to sunset entirely and the legislature should find a different solution. Ultimately, the Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the House floor for a vote, which is scheduled for 5/24.
6/10 UPDATE: Last week, on June 3rd, Gov. Brown signed into law SB59A which passed the house floor for its third and final reading on May 24th. SB59A extends the sunset of the Columbia River Endorsement fee to 2026. Funds produced from the Endorsement will go to the advancement of native fish conservation, and off-channel hatchery production to support selective harvest and recreational methods of angling. The Endorsement originally came about in 2013 and today almost exactly mirrors the bill from 8 years prior. However, there's one significant amendment that angler organizations fought for over the last 4 months.
The amended SB59A specifically removes the Endorsement Fee from angler license holders if the Oregon Department of Fish and Game (ODFW) Commission decides to place non-treaty commercial gillnets back on the mainstream of the Columbia River. Non-treaty commercial gill nets were allowed back on the mainstream for the first time in 7 years by the Washington Department of Fish and Game (WDFW) in 2020, breaking Columbia River Fisheries management agreements between Oregon and Washington. NW Steelheaders sees this as a win for the recreational angling community as an added incentive for the ODFW Commission to keep non-treaty gill nets off the Columbia River.
HB 2298 would allow property owners to voluntarily construct “environmental restoration weirs” in incised streams. We support efforts to restore incised streams and recognize the value of weirs and beaver dam analogues in achieving this goal, but we are concerned about the lack of specificity and clarity about these what structures are considered “environmental restoration weirs” in the current version of the bill. The types of structures permitted under this bill need to be clearly defined, including their form, function, and composition, to minimize environmental impacts in arid regions of Oregon. Further, we are concerned that the bill allows for “environmental restoration weirs” constructed on properties in areas without current fish populations will be exempt from fish passage requirements, even if fish historically occupied the area. Given the significant number of fish passage barriers in our State, it is important to ensure that future developments do not impede potential opportunities for fish recovery.
While we agree with the underlying concept of providing pathways for property owners to use weirs to restore streams on their property, we would like to see the bill amended to more clearly define these concepts.
During the March 11th work session, the House Committee on Water unanimously voted to send this bill to the House floor for a vote with a recommendation to pass the legislation. On 4/5, the Oregon House of Representatives voted 49-9 in support of this bill to advance it to the Senate for consideration. Representatives Fahey, Marsh, Salinas, Holvey, Kropf, Nathanson, Pham, Power, and Rayfield voted in opposition.
5/21 UPDATE: During the 4/19 public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery committee, we testified in support of amending the bill to require that any restoration weirs covered under the program are constructed using natural materials such as rock, dirt, or wood. On 4/26, the Committee voted to include an amended version of the bill with a clearer definition of what constitutes an environmental restoration weir and require that these structures be built using natural materials. They unanimously voted to send it to the Senate floor with a recommendation that it be passed. On 5/7, the Senate voted 21-1 in support of the bill. Sen. Boquist voted in opposition and 8 other Senators were excused. On 5/19, the Senate President signed it into law.
The Oregon State Marine Board is Oregon’s recreational boating agency with a mission to “serve Oregon’s recreational boating public through education, enforcement, access, and environmental stewardship for a safe and enjoyable experience.” The Board was established in 1959 with five volunteer Board members representing different geographic regions of the state and different boating activities.
HB 2695 would double the size of the board: eight voting and two non-voting members, and specifies the types of sectors each voting member would represent. The eight voting members would include a fisheries biologist, recreational angler, tribal member, recreational boater, water paddler, floating home owner, as well as a licensed outfitter or guide. Because recreational interests and uses of our waterways have changed dramatically over the past 60 years, we support the concept of having a marine board that is representative of a broad range of user groups and the public.
During the March 25th meeting, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted to send this bill to the House floor for a vote with the recommendation that it be passed. Most committee members voted in favor of the bill while Representatives Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville), Cate (R-Lebanon), and Brock-Smith (R-Port Orford) voted against it.
On April 15th, the House of Representatives voted 35-22 to pass this bill to the Senate for consideration. Representatives Drazan, Boshart Davis, Cate, Leif, Lewis, Morgan, Nearman, Noble, Owens, Post, Brock Smith, Stark, Wallan, Zika, Bonham, Breese-Iverson, Hayden, Moore-Green, Reschke, Smith, Weber, and Wright voted in opposition.
5/21 UPDATE : On April 23rd, the bill was referred to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.
HB 2067 eliminates the one-day angling license and establishes a combined one-day shellfish and angling license, reducing the fees for these activities from $32.50 to $23. This is an important bill to reduce financial barriers and increase the accessibility of fishing for new anglers as well as reduce the financial burden on coastal guides that often offer combined fishing and crabbing trips. Further, it provides opportunity for ODFW to establish temporary reduced fee licenses for promotions to encourage new people to explore angling. We support this bill and hope to see it pass into law this session.
During the March 11th work session, the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources unanimously voted to send this legislation to the House floor . On April 7th, the House of Representatives voted 46-12 in support of sending this bill to the Senate for consideration. Representatives Dexter, Fahey, Holvey, Nathanson, Nearman, Nosse, Rayfield, Reschke, Salinas, Sanchez, Sollman, and Valderrama voted in opposition.
5/21 UPDATE: On April 19th, we testified before the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery in support of this bill as an opportunity for to enhance the Department's recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts related to angling. On May 3rd, they referred the bill to the Ways and Means Committee considering the budgetary impact. It has not been scheduled for a hearing in that committee yet.
HB 2386 would establish an independent science review board administered out of the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University as well as an independent scientific review fund to support this work. The need for independent review is especially important in salmon and steelhead recovery planning and fisheries regulations in both freshwater and marine environments given the complexities, vested interests, and multi-agency jurisdiction involved in these decisions. Decision makers are often presented with incomplete, biased, cherry-picked, or industry funded science and background information, muddying the decision making context and contributing to conflict about the resulting decision. For far too long, the State has lacked a consistent review process to ensure the science involved in decision making is unbiased and defensible. An independent science review board will improve the credibility and transparency of these decisions as well as foster a better understanding and a foundation of quality science to address the many natural resource and fisheries challenges we face.
We testified in support of this bill during the March 25th House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee meeting. During their April 1st work session, the majority of the Committee voted to advance this bill to the Joint Ways and Means Committee for review. Representatives Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville), Cate (R-Lebanon), Post (R-Keizer), and Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) voted against the bill.
5/21 UPDATE: The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for reviewing bills with financial impacts greater than $50,000 in context of the entire state budget.
HB 3185 would prohibit spreading material in undisturbed wetlands during agricultural channel maintenance, which is currently allowed under the Agricultural Channel Maintenance Program . Placing this material, either temporarily or permanently into wetlands was not the intent of this program. The intent was to limit where this type of material can be placed. Thus, there is a need to clarify this intent and specify what constitutes “farmed wetlands,” “previously impacted wetlands,” and “undisturbed wetlands.” We provided testimony during multiple public hearings supporting this bill and the need for more clarity in order to adequately protect the functions and values of undisturbed wetlands. On March 13th, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the House floor for a vote, where it passed 56 in favor and 4 excused.
5/21 UPDATE: On May 12th, we testified in support of the amended version during the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Committee public hearing. During their work session on May 19th, the committee voted 4-1 to send the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
HB 2600 would allocate a percentage of the transient lodging tax to support the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund (ORCF). The ORCF was established by legislation in 2019 to protect, maintain and enhance fish and wildlife habitats, hunting and fishing opportunities, and recreation facilities throughout the State.
Currently, the funding generated by the transient lodging tax is predominantly transferred to the Oregon Tourism Commission to promote state-wide tourism campaigns, which are often focused on amplifying our states’ outdoor recreation opportunities and scenic landscapes. Dedicating funding from the transient lodging tax to sustain the OCRF, in addition to supporting our state-wide tourism promotion, would ensure that the State continues to improve and enhance the facilities and landscapes that sustain this significant source of tourism and the $15.6 billion outdoor recreation economy throughout our State.
We testified in support of this bill during the March 16th House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. This bill seems to have died, although there were multiple bills introduced this session to remove the sunset on the OCRF and ensure the general fund provides the $1 million match they promised. HB 2913 seems to be the bill with the most momentum. We are tracking this bill and plan to submit testimony in support if it moves to the Senate for consideration.
SB 592 would ban using lead weights for commercial or recreational angling and hunting, making it a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $6,250 fine. Lead can be a significant environmental pollutant when it is present in high concentrations and there is science linking lead shot to impacts in waterfowl and other birds, and some studies indicate that lead can be problematic for fish when ingested. However, Northwest Steelheaders believes that SB 592 is premature in banning lead weights and tackle outright. We need a better scientific understanding of the sources and amounts of lead pollution in our waterways, as well as whether the impacts are attributable to fishing tackle, in order to identify what measures may be necessary and effective in reducing detrimental impacts to fish and wildlife. We welcome the opportunity to work with the legislature and ODFW to explore this issue further. The bill was referred to the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee but it doesn't seem likely that it will receive a public hearing this session.
Currently, Oregon law requires that stream barriers in salmon habitat include fish passage to minimize any impacts to our at-risk runs. HB 2610 would weaken these essential protections. If enacted, the bill would allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to exempt fish passage requirements for repairing or replacing stream barriers that are less than eight feet tall, such as culverts and tide gates, or if providing fish passage would increase the total cost of the project by more than 10%. The proposed bill goes one step further to eliminate the requirement for the Commission to periodically review criteria for fish passage waivers, eliminating the opportunity to continually review and assess fish passage needs throughout the State as our salmon and steelhead populations respond to climate and habitat changes.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee hosted a work session on this bill on March 30th, where they decided to establish a work group to work through the details of the bill. Northwest Steelheaders will be participating in this work group to advocate on behalf of the need for fish passage.
Senator Riley has routinely introduced SB 301 to ban non-treaty gill net and tangle net fishing, which we support wholeheartedly. In addition to banning non-treaty use of these non-selective gears, it would establish a Gillnet Transition Fund to reimburse existing gillnet permit holders as a result of the ban. We are tracking this bill closely in hopes that it receives a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee this session.
If you have any questions about our legislative priorities, or if you're interested in submitting testimony, please contact Betsy Emery at email@example.com.