The AOC Water Policy Committee reported in support of only one policy bill on February 1, House Bill 4113, and it has already passed through the House Rural Communities, Land Use, and Water Committee on its way to Ways & Means. HB 4113, introduced by the Governor, would establish a Task Force on Drought Emergency Response of 11 to 15 members appointed by the Governor and the four legislative leaders. The task force is to research and evaluate potential tools to prepare for and deal with drought emergencies – a present reality. They are to finish their work before 2016 ends. Members are to have interest and expertise in the subject, and must include an array of interests (including counties) and geographical diversity. HB 4113, with drought upon Oregon, is needed and, with a modest administrative price tag of $47,000, is expected to pass.
The AOC Public Lands & Natural Resources Committee presented the AOC Legislative Committee with two bills to support. House Bill 4040, which ratifies the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission decision to delist the Gray Wolf (canis lupus) from the State Endangered Species Act and is now under threat of appeal, was heard by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last Wednesday and sent to the House floor as amended the following Tuesday. Witnesses, both for and against, filled the room. Although delisted only on the eastside under the federal ESA, the gray wolf retains significant protections under the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which received support from ranchers and producers. The amended version of removed a prohibition against relisting the gray wolf until its numbers declined to a point where Chair Brad Witt explained that it would be virtually impossible to relist. The amendments were a compromise agreed to by all parties. Moreover, the committee amended a bill to increase civil penalties for unlawful taking or killing wildlife (HB 4046) by adding the gray wolf to the list of species covered. HB 4046 was also sent to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation.
The third natural resources bill to also see action is a work product of Wheeler County Judge Steve Perry. House Bill 4007 would authorize establishment of a rangeland fire protection association formed by rangeland owners or approved by a county governing body as a cost-neutral part of the county emergency management program. Judge Perry was introduced to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee at the Tuesday hearing by State Representative Greg Smith. Judge Perry explained that the county had done its best to control rangeland fires with local volunteers and battered, dangerous equipment for over 20 years. Because of Wheeler County’s very high permanent property tax rate of $8.63, he stated th