Fire Season Coming, Legislative Walkout Stalled Forestry Bills

 In a previous article, the Advocate covered the Republican walkout at the 2020 legislative session, bringing an unceremonious end to the talks. The amount of work left undone by the abrupt ending of the legislative session continues to pile up. This time, it’s two major forestry bills that have been left in limbo.  

The first was Senate Bill 1536, meant to follow up on recommendations made by Gov. Brown’s wildfire council. The bill’s main purpose was to reduce the likelihood and impact of wildfires by increasing firefighting resources, improving smoke protection, and supporting controlled logging and burning procedures which would reduce the amount of undergrowth that could fuel wildfires.  

While the proposed cap-and-trade legislation that prompted the walkout was opposed by Republican legislators, SB 1536 seemed to enjoy bipartisan support and was advancing fairly quickly.  

“Obviously it’s very disappointing that the session wound down without that going through,” said Matt Donegan, who chaired the wildfire council. “I think the nightmare scenario is going to be if we have a horrible fire season. If the recommendations we made could have been helpful in preventing some kind of tragedy and because of the walkout the recommendations weren’t followed.”  

Since then, the Oregon Department of Forestry, which would have received the most funding from the bill, has stated that it intends to continue working with the governor’s office on wildfire defense, regardless of what happens to SB 1536.  

The second bill left behind was House Bill 4168, which aimed to bring timber companies and environmental groups together in order to develop a plan for the protection of species and water resources within private forests, along with adding new requirements to aerial pesticide spraying. HB 4168’s legislation would have funded a mediated process between the two groups.  

Before the bill was introduced, environmental groups were already working on ballot measures aimed at increasing protection to waterways and limiting the use of aerial pesticides. Timber companies also had ballot measures in the works, focusing on getting landowners compensation if state regulations ended up limiting their ability to log.  

Without HB 4168, parties may just go back to their ballot measures instead of mutually working anything out.   

By Thomas Nguyen