Monday, May 2, 2011

Burning Lessons From Firewood Legislation

Oregon is close to having a law that keeps potentially bug and disease-infested firewood from being sold in our state. That's important. Firewood is a vector of invasive woodborers, such as Emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and European wood wasp. These are just some of the invasive species known to hitchhike in firewood. We don't have them here in Oregon, and we definitely don't want them.

The legislative process wasn't easy; in fact, it was exhausting, but it was interesting, and we were relentless in our pursuit of protecting Oregon's 31 million acres of forests.

This week, after five sets of amendments, House Bill 2122 passed out of the Senate Environment Committee. It now goes to the Legislative Council to become an engrossed bill, and then moves to the full Senate for a floor vote. After that, it goes back to the House for their concurrence (because they passed an un-amended version), then on the Governor's desk for his signature. The ink drying on that piece of paper will be a welcome sight indeed!

Once the Governor signs the bill, the rule-making process beings to turn the authority to regulate imported firewood into actual regulations!

But like everything else in life, there are lessons learned from this firewood legislation journey:

  •  Your simple idea for a straightforward bill will come back from Legislative Council in barely recognizable legalese. Make an appointment with the drafter, and discuss whether his/her proposed language matches your ideas and intent; it won't be obvious from the draft bill.
  •  Talk to as many people as you can that might be impacted by the law, including opponents. In this particular case, the fact that Oregon's firewood industry is very decentralized made it difficult to dot all of the i's and cross all of the t's before taking the bill to both House and Senate Committees. If people know you have listened to their concerns, they are less likely to torpedo your bill. Oregon Loggers Association switched their position from opposition to neutral on our firewood bill after we met with them and developed a mutually acceptable amendment. Supporters are important, but neutralizing opposition is critical.
  •  Find some legislators, preferably from both political parties, that like your bill. Having legislators familiar and knowledgeable about the issue will help to generate "aye" votes from other committee members.
  •  Keep in close contact with committee administrators, and be as helpful as possible to make the bill a success for the legislators on their committees. Committee administrators can work miracles.
  •  Finally, align yourself with people that have the drive, passion, and tenacity to shepherd the bill. Through the ups and downs of the legislative process, it helps to have people to brainstorm with, think strategically, and shore one another up when patience runs thin!
There is more work to do. Not only do we still have to develop and adopt Administrative Rules (the actual regulations), but we also need to get the work out to firewood dealers, retail businesses and the general public: Buy and Burn Local (Pacific Northwest) firewood. Some people haven't heard the message. This week, a colleague at Oregon State University sent a cell phone picture of an out-of-state recreational vehicle traveling through Oregon with firewood stacked on the bumper. There is a good chance there were live insects in the wood, and I'm sure the campers didn't have a clue they were putting Oregon forests at risk.

I wish they had seen this video ( so that they, too, could learn a lesson about not moving firewood.

Dan Hilburn

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