Monthly Update 2020
National Pollinator Week
National Pollinator Week
June 22-28, 2020 is National Pollinator Week. Pollinators play a crucial role in plant reproduction and in the production of most fruits and vegetables. Bees, beetles, bats, butterflies, hummingbirds and other insects help pollinate more than 75% of our flowering plants and 35% of the world’s food crops, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their work is essential to our daily food supply. Yet, pollinator populations are on the decline due to many stressors, including pests, loss of habitat, pesticide exposure and other pathogens.
NACD’s Pollinators webpage includes a download of the Pollinator Field Day Curriculum Guide, available to districts in English or Spanish.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a proclamation on June 22 designating National Pollinator Week. This is the first time an EPA Administrator signed such a proclamation, joining leadership from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, all 50 governors, and organizations around the world. The agency is also a member of the Pollinator Partnership.
Hello Conservation Colleagues,
Even as we continue to experience these uncertain COVID-19 times, our hard-working staff continue to innovate and strengthen our organization. Our Executive Director Jan Lee quickly pivoted her work style and work schedule to participate virtually in meetings throughout the state of Oregon, while our Willamette University intern Mary Jean Wang works on communications and branding materials that will be relevant now and into the future.
Jan has provided our OACD perspective and input through meetings with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Natural Resources Conservation Service and more. She has also helped organize the Oregon Conservation Partnership webinar on reopening workplaces and has been in regular contact with the district managers to provide support as we look ahead to resuming business with projects and landowners. At the same time, our Advocacy Committee is working with staff to assemble an excellent two-part training to enable all of you to also be active in our advocacy program.
I encourage you to join us as we celebrate National Pollinator Week, June 22 – 28, 2020! Our colleagues in the Hood River, Wasco, Clackamas and other SWCDs are working with NRCS and others to implement projects to benefit pollinators and beneficial insects. I urge you to visit The National Association for Conservation Districts’ (NACD) pollinator page. NACD is dedicated to supporting pollinator programs and projects throughout the country, working with the Pollinator Partnership to ensure that there is science-based information available and resources for implementation.
Lastly, please take time between now and August 20 to complete the survey on SWCD director eligibility criteria that the work group under the same name, led by the Soil & Water Conservation Commission, recently sent to district managers. The work group has asked that every district discuss the background documents and surveys and have each director vote on each question and then have a compilation submitted by each district. The results of these surveys will help inform recommendations on whether and how to move forward to pursue potential changes in eligibility requirements in the future.
Terri Preeg Riggsby, OACD President
District in Focus
The Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded a grant for $60,293 from NRCS to Create Pollinator Habitat Along Irrigation District Pipeline Corridors. This is a pilot project between local stakeholders and irrigation districts to increase pollinator habitat by reseeding invasive weed-covered irrigation pipeline corridors with native plants.
Irrigation infrastructure modernization provides a unique opportunity to explore and implement cost-effective pollinator conservation efforts. Irrigation districts, ditch companies, and similar entities deliver water from rivers and streams through open canals, laterals, and ditches to farms, ranches, and orchards across the region. This infrastructure is often porous and up to 100 years old, decreasing water conveyance efficiency and creating management challenges. Responding to these challenges, irrigation districts around the state have begun to replace their open canals, laterals, and ditches with buried, pressurized pipelines in order to conserve water, improve agricultural water supply reliability, and restore streamflow for fish and wildlife.
Districts reseed newly-modernized pipeline corridors with vegetation and manage them to protect the integrity of the pipes. This project will leverage that existing corridor of vegetative cover by integrating pollinator-friendly plants and developing recommendations for broader use. The overarching goal is to create a methodology for pollinator habitat implementation and monitoring along irrigation infrastructure that can be scaled across Oregon and the western U.S.
Other Pollinator Projects
Growers in both the Hood River and Wasco SWCDs are meeting both conservation and farm production goals by replacing invasive species such as Himalayan Blackberry with native pollinator habitat, including hedgerows, cover crops and field borders.
In the Clackamas SWCD, an upland pollinator habitat project is underway. Due to high weed pressure and past disturbances, upland prairies that once covered around 31% of the Willamette Valley now cover less than 2%. For the past two years, the district has been working on an upland pollinator habitat restoration project with the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The land area where the project occurs is known as “historic fir savanna.” The main project goal is to provide food and cover resources for wildlife and especially for diverse native pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Over 1000 feet of native hedgerow has been established and five “oak island” plantings have been established, along with native shrubs, forbs, and prairie grasses
The June webinar presented by the Oregon Watershed Conservation Partnership was led by attorneys Laura Salerno Owens and Kyle Busse of Markowitz Herbold P.C. and entitled “After the Quarantine: Employer Issues to Consider.” The presentation focused on Oregon’s guidelines, federal and state laws, and physical requirements for reopening offices. Phase I and II requirements were covered, including testing and tracing, determining which employees return when to the office, and the legal ramifications of these decisions. Both the PowerPoint and an intensive white paper providing references and discussion were provided to the 65 registrants.
Other Pandemic Updates
All but four counties are now in Phase II of the governor’s executive order for reopening. Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties remain in Phase I. Both Clackamas and Washington Counties were poised to move to Phase II but the governor’s order required them to be joined with Multnomah County that just moved into Phase I on June 19th as there was fear that they are conjoined in the region and have mutual impacts. That delays those counties by at least 21 days to move into Phase II. Subsequently both Clackamas and Washington Counties have written the governor asking to move to Phase II and not to be joined with Multnomah County which has a significantly higher level of cases. The fourth county not in Phase II is Union County, which was approved to move to Phase II but voluntarily moved back to Phase I after a significant outbreak of cases as the result of a religious service.
Masks, face shields or face coverings are required in seven counties when going out in public places: Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Hood River, and Lincoln. Businesses have the ability to require face coverings—I saw one sign last week, “No shirt, no shoes, no mask—no service.” Masks must be provided to employees and may also be made available for customers when required; signs must be posted regarding coverings. The full list of face covering guidelines is available from the governor’s website, as well as requirements of Phase I and II and other guidelines: https://govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19.
Here is the latest chart showing daily case numbers statewide; the numbers are still rising daily with anticipated ratcheting up of hospitalization numbers a couple weeks after these cases are identified. Strangely enough, the age category with the most cases is 20-29, probably more to do with reopening and gatherings, as well as workplace outbreaks and increased testing in work settings. New cases among those aged 50 years and older have declined from representing nearly half of all cases at the beginning of the outbreak to approximately 25% in recent weeks. To see the cases in your zip code, go here.
Loss of Oregon Farmland
Last month we reported the American Farmland Trust (AFT) produced a comprehensive document on loss of farmland nationally, including reports for each state, “Farms Under Threat: State of the States.” There will be a webinar on July 1 reviewing the content of the section of the report for Oregon. You can sign up here to register.
Between 2001 and 2016 Oregon lost 65,800 acres of agriculture land to high and low density development. During this same time period, 20,500 acres of our very best farmland (Nationally Significant Land—best land for long-term production of food and other crops) were converted to development. The report indicates that Oregon’s best land was 95% more likely to be converted than other agricultural land.
Rulemaking: Channel Maintenance
In 2019 House Bill 2437 was enacted to create a streamlined notice-based process by which a person or entity could engage in maintenance of channels used for agricultural drainage without a removal-fill permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL), under certain conditions. In working with the DSL, ODFW and a RAC (rules advisory committee), a rule was developed to implement the statute. Two hearings were held in June to take public comment. Addition written comments are being accepted through June 30 (see rule for submittal information).
Food Security & Farmworker Safety Program
One benefit of the federal CARES Act funding is the development of the Food Security and Farmworker Safety Program developed between the Oregon Department of Agriculture and OWEB. OWEB is housing the grant program which provides $30 million for support for farmworker housing, field sanitation and farmworker transportation. The program aids Oregon’s agricultural producers in order to help secure Oregon’s food supply chain and protect essential agricultural workers from COVID-19 exposure and illness. There is a cap of $20,000 per producer for grants.
The COVID-19 emergency caused OSHA to issue temporary rules requiring increased field sanitation measures and more stringent labor housing and transportation regulations. The Food Security and Farmworker Safety Program provides financial assistance to comply with these increased measures during peak harvest. Learn more here. Five members of the OWEB staff are on temporary reassignment to operate the program around the state. Districts can help by sharing this information with their landowners.
Groundwater Study in Harney Basin
The four-year groundwater study in the Harney Basin recently completed finds that groundwater is lost faster than it can be replenished. State water regulators are asking irrigators to stop using groundwater for irrigation, even if they have permits to do so. They are asking permit holders to brace for cutbacks to slow the groundwater declines and to not expand on their use. Extensions requested to develop new rights are on hold and are unlikely to be approved.
The study is a collaboration among the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), the USGS (Geologic Service) and a local advisory committee made up of members from Harney County, USFWS, the Burns Paiute Tribe and the Nature Conservancy. The committee held its final meeting in December 2019. The USGS is now completing two reports as part of the study: a water budget for the basin, and a report showing groundwater flows. Final results and data from the study should be available to the public sometime this year.
Two of the budget concepts proposed for the 2021 session by OWRD include additional groundwater support statewide as well as specific support for the Harney Basin. OACD strongly supported those concepts among the 14 concepts OWRD proposed.
Legislature Meets in Special Session
Earlier this week the Joint Interim Committee on The First Special Session of 2020 met on both Monday and Tuesday to accept phone-in testimony on a series of legislative counsel drafts covering policing, COVID response and a few items that failed to be enacted during the 2020 short session. The meetings were “virtual hearings” headed by co-chairs Senate President Courtney and House Speaker Kotek.
A live special session began on June 24th and could continue throughout the week. This special session is not focused on the $1.8 billion budget deficit. The governor is waiting to call a second special session later in July on budget issues after seeing what funding may materialize from Congress or state revenues. This first special session included social distancing, the closing of the Capitol to the public, and limits on the number of people in meeting rooms. There was little agreement on which of the ever-expanding list of bills being sought by legislators would eventually be considered even the day before the session.
Legislative Council (LC) draft 45, the House COVID-19 Response Omnibus Bill, has 50 sections. Those that may be of interest to districts include the local governing body meeting and operation changes similar to the governor’s earlier executive order on those requirements and the rulemaking directive for OSHA virus standards. LC 84 is the Senate COVID Omnibus Bill with 40 sections, some the same as LC 45. Other LC drafts cover policing, the corporate activities tax, the forest MOU that failed to be heard in the 2020 session, and foreclosure and eviction moratoriums.
Bits & Pieces
BLM names State Director
The Bureau of Land Management announced in June the appointment of Barry Bushue as the BLM State Director for Oregon and Washington. He was formerly the State Executive Director of the Oregon Farm Service Agency, former president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, and a family farm operator in Clackamas County.
Supreme Court Denies Hearing Klamath Takings Issue
On June 22nd the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by affected Klamath irrigators to review a prior appellate court ruling that upheld tribes had senior water rights even though they were not adjudicated in the earlier state order. Irrigators sought relief for what they described as a taking of their water rights under the Endangered Species Act due to stopped water deliveries to the Klamath Project to protect the endangered sucker fish. The appellate court indicated tribal rights were not governed by state law.
Death by 1000 Cuts
The 1000 Friends of Oregon recently published “Death by 1000 Cuts: a 10-Point Plan to Protect Oregon’s Farmland.” The report indicates there are now 60 non-farm uses allowed in EFU zones as enacted by the legislature. Further, those laws that do exist to protect farmland are often not enforced at the county and local level. The cost of enforcing changes on EFU lands should be considered when the legislature passes changes rather than mandating unbudgeted local impacts, the report proposes. The report recommends a number of policy changes.
OACD Working Lands Committee
At the July 30 OACD board meeting, the board will be considering the charter for a statewide Working Lands Committee. The Advocacy Committee has suggested developing a working lands communications piece as one of the activities the committee might pursue.
NACD Technical Grants
OACD is pleased to announce that we recommended, along with NRCS, six technical assistance applications from our member districts. These districts will be competing for $6 million nationally in funding provided by NRCS and channeled through NACD’s program. We should be able to announce the winners in our July newsletter and hope that several of our Oregon districts make the final cut.
EPA Appoints NACD President-Elect Crowder
Last week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler appointed NACD President-Elect Michael Crowder of Washington State to EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee (FRRCC). The FFRCC provides independent policy advice, information, and recommendations to EPA on a range of environmental issues and policies that are important to agriculture and rural communities. The committee has 34 members reflecting national interests.
ODA Budget Cuts Affect Weed Programs
The $10.6 million of its 2019-2021 budget from lottery revenue is expected to be reduced by 30%, according to Deputy Director Lisa Hanson of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Her June 18th announcement at the Board of Agriculture meeting indicated the agency is bracing for a drop in the August lottery allotment that will affect the noxious week control and prevention program and management of insects and pests. Seasonal workers will not be hired to set insect traps. ODA is looking for volunteers, as well as staff, to fulfill that need. The agency’s other revenues from the general fund budget of $26 million will also be impacted by the 17% cut requested by the governor’s office due to an almost $2 billion loss in income that state has experienced.
DEQ Responds to New WOTUS Rule
“A new federal rule goes into effect Monday, June 22, that has serious and potentially damaging implications for ensuring clean, safe and healthy water in Oregon and elsewhere”, a press release from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality announced. The rule imposes a new definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS), under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), that reduces the extent of waterbodies protected by federal regulations. A complete statement from DEQ is available here. DEQ further describes the rule as a direct assault on the CWA. “For five decades states have been working within the CWA to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into our waters. Rolling back this legislation under the guise of ‘efficiency’ will endanger our drinking water, fish habitat, recreation areas and more.”
State laws and rules remain unchanged, regardless of the federal changes. Under Oregon law, no person may discharge pollutants or wastes to any waters of the state that would result in violations of state water quality standards, regardless of federal authority. Under the recent HB 2250 (the Oregon Environmental Projection ACT), the Oregon Legislature enacted provisions that when federal laws are less stringent than Oregon’s environmental laws, Oregon law prevails. The new WOTUS definition will not change the Division of State Lands Removal-Fill permitting. However, the new rule could impact DEQ’s 401 Water Quality Certification for projects impacting wetlands and waterways. DEQ staff is currently looking at its own rules and laws to see where any discrepancy would occur.
While a federal judge in San Francisco denied a motion by a coalition of 17 states, New York City and Washington DC to issue a nationwide injunction against the new rule stopping its application, a federal judge in Colorado granted that state’s request to put a hold on the rule. Colorado stated in its brief that “Ephemeral and intermittent waters account for at least 68% of Colorado’s stream miles and all of Colorado’s ephemeral streams will be categorically excluded from the CWA protection, and it is uncertain how many of Colorado’s intermittent streams will be covered.” There are two additional court cases pending to stop the impact of the rule change, one from a coalition of Native American tribes and another from environmental groups.
OWEB is a strong partner to all of us. What affects the agency directly impacts our members and others. The severe shortfalls in lottery funding not only impede providing project grants, but also impact the agency’s budget and staffing needs.
The agency’s current budget cuts agency operations and staff by 33% or 11 staff positions. Staff reassignments have already been taking place to keep staff employed. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, 5 staff have gone temporarily to staff the Food Security and Farmworker Safety Program. State agencies in general are relocating some staff to other agencies where there is a need. While some functions at OWEB may be reduced or more slowly fulfilled, other tasks may only be able to be served on a very limited basis. The agency commits to keeping all of us informed as they move forward under these conditions. Staff travel is generally suspended.
Grants Approved in June
At the April OWEB board meeting all grants were placed on a hold pending a major anticipated reduction in lottery funds. The OWEB Board reviewed those grants again at its June 11 meeting and was able to provide over $21 million to fund grants: $1.5 million for small grants, $11.15 million for restoration, $1.5 million for TA, $500,000 for stakeholder engagement, $1.75 million for monitoring, and $4.75 million for land acquisitions. Partial reserved funding is provided for FIPs to meet July 2019 commitments, leaving a balance of $4.7 million in the board’s account. One of the grants approved was $58,250 for about 1/3 of the monitoring funding for sage grouse; the remainder was granted earlier by USFWS. Weed grants were not funded; CREP grants were funded earlier.
At the June 11th OWEB board meeting Director Meta Loftsgaarden indicated that the impact of reduced lottery would impact the grant funding from the originally planned $33 million to $15 million (67% of budgeted revenues) in the best case scenario and $8 million (55% of budgeted revenues) in the worst case. It takes close to $8 million to be able to run a grant cycle. A total of ¾ of the agency’s money comes from the lottery and about ¼ from the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF). The agency receives no state general fund money.
Oregon/Washington BLM manages more than 16 million acres of public lands in Oregon and are offering a cooperative agreement between BLM and OWEB, using the “Good Neighbor Authority.” The intent would be to work together to facilitate aquatic restoration projects with local partners in areas of mutual interest over a three-year period. A sum of $2,999,997 would be allocated over 3 years, 1/3 of the amount to each of 3 different geographies.
FIP Applications: The OWEB Board postponed the FIP 2021-2023 application deadline until at least June 30, 2021 due to lottery revenue declines. The application and review sheet are available at OWEB’s website. Contact Andrew Dutterer for further information on the process: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The agency proposes a number of POPs (policy packages) for the next biennium from lottery funds, about $1.4 million. Those would need to be included in the governor’s budget to move forward. There are some other POPs that could come from federal funds (PCSRF). There is also a $5 million placeholder for donations or other funding that might come in for the Oregon Agriculture Heritage Program as money is not anticipated from state funds.
PCSRF funding has been allocated to Oregon in the amount of $15 million, the same as last year. However, only $8.67 million is allocated to OWEB. The balance is provided to ODFW and for monitoring other projects. Given some funds remaining from last year, $9.5 million from PCSRF is part of OWEB’s proposed spending plan. Oregon has received $252 million in PCSRF funding since 2000.
Please let OACD know of district projects or issues we can feature in future newsletters.