Oregon's 2021 Legislative Session in Review

A collage of the inside of the Oregon capitol with images of a wildfire and renewable energy on each side
Wins for wildlife and clean energy, but little progress on forestry reform 

This year’s whirlwind legislative session had a lot to contend with. The Covid-19 pandemic, climate crisis, devastating wildfires, racial and social justice, and economic struggles of the state took center stage. Oregon Wild and our allies worked hard for some big wins for the environment, and there were some pretty big let downs as well. We’ll be back next session to continue the fight! Overall, major progress was made thanks to our members and supporters who stood up for our wildlife and wild places. Please take a look below for some key updates.

A Cleaner, More Efficient Energy Future

  • HB 2021, which established a 100% clean energy standard by 2040 was this session’s highest-profile energy bill – and it passed! The bill also includes a $50 million incentive program to promote energy resilience and small-scale clean energy projects and provides funds for energy efficiency in wildfire rebuilding efforts.
  • HB 2842, the Healthy Homes Act, will invest $10 million in a new Healthy Homes-Repair Fund at the Oregon Health Authority to support low-income Oregonians with energy efficiency retrofits. 
  • HB 2475, the Energy Affordability Act, will help support low-income families who cannot afford their energy bills.

Wildlife Wins and Losses

  • Coyote killing bill fails again. HB 2728, the bill to prohibit coyote killing contests, was once again used like a political weapon to drive a wedge between legislators. As such, and for the third year in a row, the legislation did not pass. 
  • Beaver protections are still needed. Because beavers on private land are classified as "predatory animals", not only are there no limits on when they can be hunted or trapped, but the agency that manages them is the Oregon Department of Agriculture, not ODFW. HB 2844 was looking to remedy that, by removing the predatory classification, which would allow ODFW to oversee all restoration and management decisions about this important keystone species. Unfortunately, this too did not pass. 
  • New wildlife champ for Oregon. Earlier this session, the Senate approved the appointment of Dr. Kathayoon Khalil -- a conservation psychologist and social scientist -- for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. This is an important step forward, as this Commission -- which oversees most fish and wildlife policy for the state -- has often been stacked with anti-conservation voices. Dr. Khalil began her term on May 14th, serving as the Western at Large representative. 

Wildfire Bill Passes

  • Senate Bill 762, Oregon’s omnibus wildfire response bill also passed this session. The massive $185 million funding bill is focused on funding additional firefighting capacity and forest thinning, but also contains money for community defense and home hardening. We would have liked to see more resources focused on home hardening and emergency planning rather than backcountry logging (which is a more expensive and less effective fire safety tactic), but we are happy that vulnerable communities in Oregon will receive additional support.

Bad News for Forests, Rural Communities, and Government Accountability

  • The timber industry sees taxes lowered while rural Oregonians continue to pay the price — but not for long. Timber taxes in Oregon need to be reformed as soon as possible. Timber tax cuts have cost counties at least $3 billion in the past three decades, according to an investigation by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica. Lawmakers made a serious effort to address this issue — Rep. Holvey introduced an ambitious bill to revive the severance tax, but unfortunately the bill failed to gain momentum. Rep. Nancy Nathanson also brought forward recommendations for increasing transparency of the opaque and complex harvest tax system, but unfortunately even this extremely reasonable and fair reform also failed. In response, leadership in the House decided to delay reauthorizing the harvest tax until next year. But this only gives the industry a temporary reprieve, we will be sure to raise the need for reform again and again until they pay their fair share and support Oregon’s rural communities bearing the brunt of environmental impacts.   
  • OFRI remains the lobby group for the timber industry, faces no consequences for breaking the law. One of the biggest disappointments this session was the failure of Senate leadership to hold the Oregon Forest Resources Institute accountable for repeatedly breaking the law, suppressing science, and spouting misinformation. The session started with a bill to eliminate OFRI, which was then downsized to limit funding for the agency and implement stronger restrictions on their education and outreach. The downsized version of the bill passed the House, only to die in the Senate without even getting a hearing. Given the numerous articles that were published on how this public agency became a lobby arm for the timber industry and tried to suppress climate change research, the lack of oversight is truly shocking. We expect better from leadership in the Senate, and will continue to demand accountability in the next session.

New Direction for the Department of Forestry

  • Oregon’s anti-climate action State Forester pushed out and a new conservation majority Board of Forestry steps up. This update is not directly related to the legislative session, but is still great news for better forest management in Oregon! The previous State Forester, Peter Daugherty abruptly resigned after a new conservation majority Board of Forestry was appointed. In addition to financial mismanagement at the agency, Daugherty had also long been an opponent of modernizing the Department of Forestry to account for climate change and climate-smart forestry. The newly open position, and an environmentally focused new Board, sets the stage for major and much-needed changes at ODF. 

So, this legislative session we certainly had some setbacks, but we also had some major wins! And these must be celebrated. Our deepest thanks to all our wonderful members and supporters who fought alongside us for our climate, wildlife, and clean water. Onward!

Action: If you have time, please thank the following champs for their efforts this session:

Rep. Andrea Salinas -- chief sponsor of the OFRI reform bill, led the charge in the House. She also helped us get some key positions added to the private forest program at the Department of Forestry.

Sen. Michael Dembrow -- A real champion, he worked hard for OFRI reform on the Senate side and looks likely to lead an effort on OFRI in 2022.

Sen. Jeff Golden -- A terrific leader at the head of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, he gave strong support for OFRI reform and also shined a light on conflict of interest in the Board of Forestry and Department of Forestry.

Rep. Pam Marsh --  Played a role in both the House Ag committee and the Revenue Committee on moving OFRI and the beaver bill along. She also helped lead the conversation on reforming harvest taxes.  

Rep. Khanh Pham -- A remarkable and fresh voice in the conversation, she too played a key role in moving both the OFRI bill and the harvest tax reforms in Revenue.

Rep. Zach Hudson -- A new legislator, he played an important role in helping a compromise OFRI bill move through the House.

Rep. Nancy Nathanson -- Brought her experience and smarts to the harvest tax conversation as a proponent of stability and transparency.  It looks like she will be back on this topic in 2022.

Rep. Paul Holvey --  Long a lone voice on forest reform, we all owe him our thanks for keeping the flame alive over the years and turning up the heat for reform (again!) in 2021.