Soapbox Update January 15th, 2016

Bearing the Burden of Conservation

During the last full legislative session that the Oregon delegates convened (2015), the concept for a task force was formed to develop innovative ideas for funding for Fish, Wildlife and Related Outdoor Recreation and Education in Oregon. The task force was necessary given the trajectory of one of Oregon’s most popular agencies and the future financial pitfalls that lie ahead.

Although many stakeholders were financially “invested” in the mission of the agency, hunters and anglers bore the bulk of the agency’s mission through license and tag fees, conveniently coupled up with federal match money given through federal excise tax on sportfishing equipment. With many hunters and anglers leaving the sport and not enough excited enough to replace them, this, coupled with the public pension taxpayers are left to fund, dug state agencies into a deep hole. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had one of the deepest holes to climb out of, thus, the shifting of millions of general fund dollars to secure an already bleeding agency. It wasn’t without strings however, hence, the implementation of HB 2402, the birth of the task force.

Not a new crisis for this department, other attempts have been made to stop the bleeding, such as a tax on birdseed. After several failed attempts, the “bird seed tax” has yet to be implemented. A diverse slate of stakeholders attended their first meeting on January 12th and with so much riding on this process, it seems everyone wants to see a positive outcome to it. Sportfishing interests are not well represented on the task force, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; we pay our fair share.

What this conversation really comes down to is who owns our states fish and wildlife and who should pay to manage them. I think everyone knows the answers to these questions, hopefully, it’s not a reach to sell our public on the value of our fish and wildlife resources. Although it was a heavy lift in the last legislative session, law-makers could understand such concepts as the general budget paying for troublesome wildlife removal from urban areas and other agencies paying for permitting, say… wind turbines, instead of hunters and anglers. Makes sense, right?

The bottom line is, you’d be hard pressed to find any Oregonian that doesn’t want more fish and wildlife, the non-invasive type anyway. I think you would be hard pressed to find many Oregonians that wouldn’t agree that we would all be willing to pay a little bit more to secure the future of our fish and wildlife resources in our home states. Everyone owns these resources, everyone should be investing in them.

In a previous blog, I wrote about conceptualizing our capabilities in moving policy, on the state and federal level, if the environmental and conservation communities worked together. We’ll see if this collaborative approach comes to fruition is this taskforce is successful in coming to consensus on future funding mechanisms to secure the solvency of this beloved agency.

And speaking of collaboration, I remain pleasantly surprised in a recent success a small, grassroots group of anglers have had on an access issue right here in my home city of Gladstone, Oregon. At risk was a critical access point at the mouth of the Clackamas River where ironically, I cut my teeth on fishing the Willamette River as a kid. The Port of Portland has initiated a restoration project at the confluence of the Clackamas with the Willamette, and what angler isn’t in favor of a salmon restoration project? The problem was, the Port, along with the city, thought it a good idea to remove about .14 acres of asphalt and return the bank to a rocky shoreline. The problem is, where else in an urban area would an angler with a disability, stand a reasonable chance at catching our region’s prized spring Chinook salmon? I can assure you, not many places from the bank, if any at all. Thankfully, the friendly staff at the Port is working with us on a solution so maybe this will end in good measure for a change. Our history of victories is not long, but it is growing.

There’s a reason for some of our most recent successes; we’re working more closely together, in a strategic fashion, to accomplish a common goal. It’s a testament to what can get done when we all work collectively on a single goal, no matter how big. The better news is, as we collect our wins and build the strength of our coalitions, we’ll win bigger and better fights. We certainly have many to choose from.

The Association of Northwest Steelheaders will continue to pay close attention to all that affects us anglers here in the region. So far this year, we’re winning the access issue, we’re winning the battle of the Bakken, keeping the country’s largest oil-by-rail terminal from being sited on top of our favorite fishing beach and the Columbia River Reform Package has fact, not fiction, supporting its ongoing implementation. But we have many more challenges ahead such as the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal fisheries law that governs most of our ocean waters. Our New Year is off to a great start, help us make it a happier one!