Monthly Update 2020
Getting Ready for Reopening
Hello Conservation Colleagues! I hope this newsletter finds you and your families doing as well as possible as we continue to navigate these challenging COVID-19 times. As this global pandemic continues to affect our personal and professional lives, we maintain our commitment to supporting our Soil & Water Conservation Districts and local project partners as best as we can. On June 18th the Oregon Conservation Partnership will provide a webinar with guest speakers from a local law firm who will be covering how to reopen after the pandemic, not only physically, but in relationship to various laws governing actions. You will receive a special announcement the week prior with access information. This wil be one more opportunity to support our district staff and boards during these unusual times.
OACD’s Advocacy Committee has been quite busy lately, including developing a state-wide training and presenting a draft advocacy policy to the OACD board. Thanks to Advocacy Committee Chair Stan Dean for his work on this policy. See more in the following news items.
Please join us via phone for our next board meeting on Thursday, June 25, when we will review and vote on a proposed charter for the new Working Lands Committee. This new committee will help OACD identify and respond to issues affecting working lands throughout the state and we’re excited that committee chair Jim Webster is working with OACD Executive Director Jan Lee on writing the new charter for this committee.
Lastly, in response to current conditions related to COVID-19, we have decided to cancel our live annual meeting in the fall at Eagle Crest. We will determine in the fall if it is safe to have a live meeting in early winter, or whether we want to host a virtual meeting instead – stay tuned for updates as we learn more.
Serving our Conservation Districts,
Terri Preeg Riggsby, OACD President
The current statewide focus has been on reopening Oregon gradually while maintaining health safety conditions to lower the threat of the virus. But at the same time there is considerable stress from the loss of economic activity and its impact on businesses and individuals. This month’s focus has been on both aspects: the governor and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) issuing reopening approvals for Phase I of three levels and the legislative committees meeting to discuss the financial impacts of COVID-19.
All counties except Multnomah have now applied to the governor for Phase I reopening and have been approved. To see each county’s plan requirements and status go here. Each county’s plan refers to specific reopening guidelines. General guidelines for various businesses and activities are available at the governor’s website as well as information on what activities occur in Phases I, II and III. Each phase must stay in place 21 days. One of the newest releases of guidelines is for agricultural employers. Districts sharing newsletters with their customers might want to share the link to the guidance.
The OHA website provides daily tracking and information regarding current cases. The illustration below shows the last 14 days.
The OHA website also provides information on the number of cases per zip code for more specific tracking. That report is updated every Tuesday; zip code references start at page 8 of the report.
OHA indicates Oregon is in the third phase of fighting the pandemic, shifting from 1) containment to 2) mitigation and now 3) suppression. While the pandemic is far from over, some businesses are now able to reopen relaxing some restrictions. OHA Director Patrick Allen shared in a recent press conference that “We will be at this with coronavirus for 12 to 24 months more.” Later Allen spoke to the House Interim Committee on Health Care, stating his hope to open schools in September if the number of cases can be kept down. Oregon has the 5th lowest per capita rate of positive cases in the 50 states and the fifth lowest number of deaths per capita, but also a low rate in testing.
Last week the House and Senate Interim Revenue Committees met to hear the state economist’s forecast for Oregon’s economy. The full forecast document released May 20 is located here. While this recession is extremely severe—the deepest on record in Oregon dating back to 1939—it is expected to be shorter in duration than the Great Recession (the housing disaster). The economy is expected to return to a more normal status by mid-decade, around 2025. The initial severity of the recession was due to suppressed economic activity and not greater economic imbalances, and the federal policy has been swifter and more targeted than in past recessions.
General Fund and other revenues have been reduced by $2.7 billion in the current biennium and are anticipated to drop $4.4 billion in the 2021-2023 budget period with a total loss of $10.3 billion by 2025. There is a state reserve fund of $1.6 billion and about $1 billion in the General Fund that didn’t get allocated due to the legislative shutdown earlier this year, so the state is in a little better position to deal with the losses. Agencies have been asked to cut their budgets from now through June 30, 2021 by 17% and have been asked by the governor to provide a list of another 15% in case more is needed.
The state economist reports a 19% loss of jobs in Oregon in the past 60 days. A total of 267,000 jobs were lost in March and April and the unemployment rate has increased to 14.2%, up from 3.5% earlier this year. The industries most impacted in Oregon include natural resources and manufacturing; 80% of the natural resource jobs are related to timber.
Lottery terminals have been shut down for 8 weeks and have lost around $150 million and are expected to drop by $364 million (25%) by the end of the biennium (June 30, 2021) and by another $260 million (16%) in the 21-23 biennium. We in the conservation industry recognize that by the loss of grant funding OWEB is able to provide with their share of lottery funds. One-half of video lottery has now reopened and is pulling in 60% of the normal revenue. Numbers for the rest of this biennium reflect a 25% drop in income tax in addition to decreased lottery funds. However, the marijuana tax revenue is up 60% over last year with home delivery sales more than doubling. The next revenue forecast report will be presented September 23rd.
Drought, Flood and Fire
Oregon received a Presidential Disaster Declaration March 28th to help fight COVID-19 and to support Governor Brown’s declared State of Emergency declaration February 7th. Those declarations granted broad authority to Oregon’s State Public Health Director and made resources available from FEMA and other agencies.
But that has not been the only declaration this year. On April 3rd Oregon received a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for Umatilla, Union and Walla Walla Counties that experienced severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides. FEMA assistance then became available for damage to infrastructure in all 3 counties as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. This is the first time since 2007 that any Oregon county has been eligible for FEMA-IA funds.
Beyond that declaration, Governor Brown has now declared drought emergencies in four Oregon counties: Coos, Curry, Jackson, and Klamath. The Oregon Drought Council is reviewing other pending requests, including Douglas County. Declaration of drought emergencies provides access to federal and other resource programs.
A combination of drought and ESA protection of fish has resulted in farmers in Klamath County and CA’s adjoining Tulelake area rallying to raise awareness and call upon the government to fix water availability problems increasing over the last decade. In April 2001 farmers participated in the “bucket brigade” gaining national attention when water delivery was cut off. This May, about 1,000 vehicles are planning to be included in the convoy, representing farmers and local businesses serving farmers. The impact this year could be worse than 2001 because there are millions of dollars’ worth of crops already in the ground. Farming in Klamath, Siskiyou and Modoc Counties is valued at $1.3 billion in economic impact.
The Bureau of Reclamation issued a three-year interim operating plan, taking into account ESA consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The plan anticipates less than half the usual amount of water available this summer, but the drought is expected to create further cutbacks.
The U.S. Drought Monitoring organization indicated in its May report this status for Oregon drought:
- 13.8% of the state is abnormally dry
- 46.4% moderately dry
- 29% severely dry
- 8.2% extremely dry (a small area near the CA border)
This is the first time since 2004 that a portion of Oregon has been noted as extremely dry.
Wildfire Season Begins Early
Spencer Higginson, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Medford, has concern that fire conditions in Southwest Oregon could mirror the severity of 2018. Exceptionally dry conditions across Southern Oregon and Northern California are expected well into the summer months. The State Department of Forestry declared the beginning of fire season in the Southwest Oregon District (1.8 million acres of state-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine Counties) May 1. This is the earliest start of fire season since 1988. Firefighters responded to 25 fires in April—5 times as many as usual for the month. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise is predicting hot and dry weather for the Northwest this summer. Experts are predicting greater potential for large wildfires beginning in SW Oregon and spreading across the Pacific Northwest.
…and now you’re waiting for the good news….
USDA Announces Availability of $15 Million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG)
Project proposals are due June 29 for the CIG program for innovative projects on forest or agriculture land. Creative problem-solving solutions boosting production and improving natural resource conditions can be awarded under this program. See this link for application details and submittal.
USDA Wetland Mitigation Bank Program Funds – $5 Million
Wetland mitigation banking includes restoration, creation, and enhancement of wetlands to compensate for unavoidable impacts on wetlands at other locations. The Farm Bill includes wetland conservation provisions, commonly called “Swampbuster” provisions. Applications for the competitive program must be submitted no later than July 6. The program is available to Tribes, state and local governments, NGOs and for-profit entities. Look here for more information.
OWEB Grant Applications
OWEB is now accepting applications under its Open Solicitation Grant Offering for the following programs: Restoration, Technical Assistance and Stakeholder Engagement. The new deadline is July 27th at 5:00 p.m. More information is available at the OWEB website.
OWEB Spring Applications
OWEB is extending the Spring Open Solicitation application deadline from May 11, 2020 to July 27, 2020 at 5:00 pm, due to circumstances caused by the COVID-19 emergency and resulting revenue uncertainty. Feedback from grantees has indicated that an extension will allow applicants to proceed with more clarity following board action on pending grants at the June 11 OWEB meeting and any spending plan adjustments that may occur at the meeting as a result of revenues received and forecasts.
USDA Farmers and Ranchers Financial Assistance – Coronavirus Food Assistance Program
Applications open this week and will be accepted through August 28, 2020 for $16 billion for financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered 5% or greater price declines due to the virus and face additional marketing costs due to lower demand, surplus production and disruptions in shipping. Producers may receive 80% of their maximum total payment upon approval of the application. The remainder will be paid later as funds remain available. The CFAP application and eligibility forms can be obtained here. Apply through the local FSA office. There are exceptions in crop types and animals not covered under the program.
OACD Advocacy Update
by Stan Dean, OACD Advocacy Committee Chair
It seems like there is no lull in workload for the OACD Advocacy Committee. In the winter we were engaged in the short legislative session by evaluating and tracking bills and providing our input. Then the session came to an abrupt halt. Now we are focused on Oregon’s natural resource agencies as we seek to provide comments and recommendations on their legislative concepts and budgets for the 2021 legislative session.
A big and important goal of our committee is to help all Oregon Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) strengthen their voice in legislative and regulatory forums. We are striving to be well prepared for the 2021 legislative session. Accordingly, we are working on several actions to make us stronger.
Recently we developed a Model SWCD Advocacy Policy. It appears that some SWCDs remain confused about what they can and can’t do in legislative and regulatory forums, and it is often difficult to coordinate the need for boards to approve actions in a timely manner. The model policy provides the means for Boards to delegate authority to advocate with confidence that the Boards’ positions will be well represented and while allowing actions to be taken promptly. The model policy was approved by the OACD Board on May 21 and is available for use. In addition to the link here and will be posted on the website for continuing reference.
The Advocacy Committee is developing advocacy training. Originally, we hoped to give this training in-person with a few regional sessions around the state and a session at our annual meeting in the fall. However, we are now focusing on delivering the training on-line. It is anticipated that there will be two parts. The first will provide an overview of how laws and regulations are made and how SWCDs can make their voices heard. The second part will address restrictions on SWCDs in these arenas (dos and don’ts) and will present the Model Advocacy Policy so SWCDs can feel more confident in how to use it. Dates for the training have not yet been set.
Within the next month, the Committee will be sending all SWCDs a request for input on key legislative issues. This will help the Committee and OACD Board set priorities for the 2020 legislative session. Please be on the lookout for this request and be sure to give this some attention at SWCD Board meetings.
The Committee encourages all SWCDs to get to know their elected officials. Often state representatives and senators want to know more about key organizations in their districts and are be more than willing to sit down for coffee or a brief meeting to learn about what SWCDs are doing and what issues they are facing. The summer and fall are usually excellent times to meet with legislators. This year, such meetings are difficult with social distancing in place, but as things evolve there may be other ways to get to know each other. Many legislators are hosting virtual townhalls. You can get on your legislator’s email list to receive invitations.
As you can see there is much going on with the Advocacy Committee. Stay tuned for announcements on training and opportunities to make a difference. As always, we welcome new members on our Committee. If you need any help with advocacy do not hesitate to contact Jan Lee or me. I can be reached at (530)-902-7415 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Districts have been proactive in working under difficult and rapidly changing circumstances these last couple months after COVID-19 changed our world. I have been speaking from time-to-time with district managers and emailing information on funds, tools, and other needed items. Our website is full of information such as working under OSHA’s COVID-19 requirements, websites for information, the governor’s executive orders and more. We have all learned to meet virtually. Having regular communication with the district managers and other members during this time has made my job as executive director better—touching bases with colleagues and not working in a vacuum, learning together with all of you as we explore new tools and programs. So, thank you all for your support and keep letting me know what you need.
I have had several inquiries about “reopening plans for districts.” I saw on Friday a message from the League of Oregon Cities about a webinar they are sharing with small member cities. The law firm putting that on has a webinar presentation on reopening facilities under Oregon’s requirements, “After the Quarantine: Practical Tips for Reopening.” Laura Salerno Owens, President of the law firm Markowitz Herbold P.C., leads her firm’s employment practice group. Kyle Busse, her colleague is also an employer specialist. That presentation will be on June 18th at 1:00 p.m. The webinar will be for managers, board members and other staff who will be in charge of reopening their offices and programs.
Vidhya Nagarajan for The Washington Post
Some people have already returned to work cautiously under limited circumstances. Now returning in the reopening phases under the state’s plan will have new conditions: cleaning, masks, safety gear, space arrangement for social distancing, COVID-19 context under the American with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act some of the districts have been accessing, Oregon Sick Leave Law and other state and federal programs and requirements. These are uncharted waters and we need to be prepared for the “new normal.” The presenting team will answer questions on workplace reopenings and provide practical tips and policies to help minimize workplace liabilities. Our partners at the Oregon Conservation Partnership will be joining this webinar as well as it is an OrCP function. If you have any questions for the presenters, you can send them ahead or wait until the webinar.
Earlier we provided a guide on reopening Cushman and Wakefield’s “Recovery Readiness—a How to Guide for Preparing Your Workplace.” That provides a very detailed set of guidelines and is now posted on our website.
The OACD executive director worked in a number of agency stakeholder groups to provide views from OACD on new funding and legislative concepts. A report is available at our website, as presented at the last board meeting. The cuts that were made to achieve 17% reductions for the rest of the biennium did not allow for any stakeholder participation.
The Federal Front
As you have seen, some funding was available to assist SWCDs from the CARES Act passed in March by Congress. Districts prepared requests for those funds that had to be submitted through the state for fund access. Supplies, cleaning, signage, etc., were covered under that funding as well as reimbursement of emergency leave provisions allowed during the pandemic. There was no funding allowed for PPP (paycheck protection program), the federal payroll reimbursement program. That was just allowed for nongovernment entities. The House passed “The Heroes Act” earlier this month for additional funding ($3 trillion), some of which would come to state and local governments. The Senate has been unenthusiastic about bringing that bill to the floor there. However U.S. Treasurer Steven Mnuchin said this week that there is a strong likelihood that another coronavirus relief bill will be needed as more states start to reopen and the economy struggles to stabilize.
The Senate will be taking up the Conservation/Parks Funding bill after the recess, S. 3422. That will provide permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fund part of the maintenance backlog at national parks.
President Trump last week signed Executive Order 13824 ordering federal agencies to roll back or change regulations ”that may inhibit economic recovery” in order to boost the economy impacted by pandemic. There are not specific instructions, but it is a blanket message across the government.
A coalition of 20 states have asked a federal court in Northern CA for a nationwide injunction against the Trump Administration’s new rule definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).
OWEB Board Meeting
This will be a virtual meeting. The public may listen on YouTube (link in agenda) or by phone.
2:05 Budget Projections and OWEB Spending Plan for 2019-2021 – board discussion
2:35 Comments allowed on the 2019-2021 OWEB Spending Plan and any other items before the Board – 3 minute limit
- Fall 2019 Open Solicitation Grants
- October 2019 Land Acquisition Grants
- Focused Investment Partnership Program
Written comments are also accepted by Friday, June 5.
- Board approval of budget and spending program
- Discussion on postponing FIP solicitation
- Consideration of Open Solicitation Grants and Land Acquisition Grants from 2019
Oregon Conservation Partnership Webinar
The OrCP webinar on June 18 at 1:00 p.m. will be on reopening after the quarantine. See the content as described in the newsletter section “Reopening Districts.” This will take the place of the “district call-in” which was to be discussion on the same topic.
OACD Board Meeting
The board will meet on Thursday, June 25th to consider OACD business. An announcement and agenda with meeting access information will be provided in advance. The meeting begins at 10:00 a.m. that day. A charter for a new committee will be considered: the Working Lands Committee.
The Soil and Water Conservation Commission will meet on July 6th and 7th in a virtual meeting.
July 6: 3:00-5:00 p.m.
- ORS 568 – Getting Back to Basics
- This will be the first section for the SWCC to review parts of the statute, a process that will continue over the next several SWCC meetings to cover the entire statute.
July 7: 9:00-12:00
- Update on the Ag Water Quality Program, Water Reservations, DEQ Presentations
- Partner Reports (including OACD), Update on Land Use and Legislative Issues
Other Articles of Interest
American Farmland Trust
Jim Johnson of the Oregon Department of Agriculture shared this article from Addie Candib, Pacific NW Regional Director, American Farmland Trust
*Note the Oregon Webinar on July 1 in the article.
The American Farmland Trust (AFT) has just released its Farms Under Threat: State of the States report. The report shows the extent, location, and quality of each state’s agricultural land and tracks how much agricultural land has been converted in each state using the newest data and the most cutting-edge methods. It also analyzes the six most widespread farmland protection programs and policies, ranking state performance with the Agricultural Land Protection Scorecard. Farms Under Threat: State of the States is a breakthrough tool for analyzing state efforts to make sure farmland is available to produce food, provide essential environmental services and help mitigate and buffer the impacts of climate change.
In Oregon, the report demonstrates some clear wins. In comparison to other states, the overall threat to Oregon’s farmland is relatively low, and our policy response has been strong. This is thanks – at least in part – to Oregon’s strong land-use planning program, and the hard work of land trusts and other conservation organizations over the last several decades. To share a few highlights:
- Development is still threatening our most productive farmland. Between 2001 and 2016, Oregon lost 65,767 acres of farmland – an area roughly twice the size of Salem. While this loss represents just a fraction of Oregon’s total agricultural acreage, 31% of the land lost is considered “nationally significant land,” or land best suited for food production.
- Farms Under Threat also details an alarming new threat: a land use category that has never been mapped before, which AFT is calling Low-Density Residential Development, or LDR. Farmland in areas with significant LDR are much more likely to be lost. In Oregon, agricultural land that was in LDR areas in 2001 was 95 times more likely to be developed by 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of regionally diverse and resilient farm economies. Oregon must act now to permanently secure its most productive, versatile, and resilient farmland. To achieve this goal, state and local governments must develop a comprehensive set of policies and programs that address not just land protection, but also farm viability and the transfer of land to the next generation.
You can read the complete national report here, and you can access the interactive mapping tool and download the state summaries for Oregon here. In conjunction with the AFT’s new National Agricultural Land Network, our PNW team will be hosting an informational webinar about the report specifically for conservation stakeholders in Oregon on July 1st. You can pre-register for the Oregon webinar here.
Mt. St. Helens and the Pandemic
Forty years later there are lessons to be learned from the Mt. St. Helens disaster that relate to the pandemic—the tension among science, politics, and economics. This is an interesting read from the New York Times of how similar issues arose before the country’s most destructive volcanic eruption.