Legislative Roundup

Dec 09, 2019
Executive Director Brad Chalfant provides an update on legislation that affects the Deschutes Land Trust.

By Brad Chalfant

Land conservation isn’t just a dialogue between a land trust and a landowner--it often depends upon finding the right incentives and funding as well. To that end, the Deschutes Land Trust works with the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts (COLT) to encourage Oregon’s legislature and Congress to provide funding to help private landowners conserve their land. Two upcoming opportunities look promising.

The first is the permanent reauthorization of the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is derived from off-shore mineral leases. LWCF has been a federal funding mainstay on multiple levels for land conservation. It includes the Forest Legacy Program, which is key to the eventual protection of Central Oregon’s Skyline Forest. Unfortunately, LWCF has always suffered from under-appropriation by Congress, and this past fall, LWCF was allowed to lapse and sunset. However, legislation permanently reauthorizing LWCF was passed with bi-partisan support this fall in the House of Representatives and late last month the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance a bi-partisan LWCF full funding bill to the full Senate. We have realistic hopes that we can finally get LWCF over the finish line, though small items like passing a federal budget/possible shutdown and impeachment could scramble everything. In the meantime, we applaud Oregon’s Congressional delegation for their strong support of LWCF, and in particular, the leadership of Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley, as the bill moves to the full Senate.

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, a broad coalition of land trusts, soil & water conservation districts, and agricultural groups have been working diligently to encourage funding for the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund (OAHP). OAHP is a state program enacted in 2017 that would provide funds to leverage available federal funding to protect working farms and ranches. Unfortunately, the legislature failed to actually fund this new program in subsequent years, meaning that Oregon has failed to capture and leverage available federal funds to protect farms and ranches (to the benefit of our neighboring states). This means the Deschutes Land Trust and other Oregon land trusts continue to struggle to find non-federal funds to match federal dollars and permanently protect important agricultural lands. For the Deschutes Land Trust, that means moving at a snail’s pace, rather than accelerating our efforts to protect large ranches on the upper Crooked River, which provide critically important big game winter range and migration corridors.

Fortunately, we seem to be hearing positive responses from Oregon legislators from both sides of the political aisle, particularly since this is a key opportunity for Salem to invest in rural Oregon, protecting both agriculture and the open space that wildlife needs to survive. We’d like to say a special thanks to Representatives Brian Clem (D-Salem) and Cheri Helt (R-Bend) for their expressions of support for OAHP when the Deschutes Land Trust reached out to them.

Stay tuned for additional legislative updates as they arise.