Thursday, March 21, 2013

You Don't Know What You Got 'Til It's Gone

Every year, I travel thousands of miles along U.S. highways and byways. The best way to get a strong pulse on America is to travel through it, stopping at local coffee shops, and immersing yourself in the local politics, events, and other happenings. No matter where I've been or how long I've stayed, I've always found something I like in just about every place.

I recently vacationed in southern Arizona, and to get there, I traveled through the entire state of California, entering in southern Oregon, and departing in southeastern California. There's a lot I like about California - its beaches, wine country, national parks, and desert, to name a few. But the drive from Redding, California to Bakersfield, California on Interstate 5 would make anyone with a passion for eradicating invasive species cringe.

Why? Three reasons.

1. From the Sacramento River in northern California to Bakersfield, just about every Interstate-5 crossing is choked with Arundo donax. According to the county of San Diego, "Arundo donax was introduced to California in the early 1800s to be used as a roofing material and for erosion control in the canals. It is a reed that can grow to 20 feet or more. However, it grows in very dense stands, chokes off and kills other plant life and is unsuitable as a food source or nesting habitat for animals. Besides severely damaging the natural ecosystem, it can also clog stream flows; and is a tremendous fire hazard." It is amazing to see how this plant has transformed entire riparian corridors and river systems, just south of Oregon's border.

2. You have to travel through a town called Weed to get to Bakersfield on I-5. The good news is that the town is actually named after the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, a Maine transplant that came to California with his wife in 1869, settling in the Truckee area near Lake Tahoe. He moved to the Mount Shasta area and discovered that local strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. In 1897, he bought the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill and 280 acres of land in what is now the City of Weed, for the sum of $400. By the 1940s Weed boasted the world's largest sawmill. Until I learned how the town of Weed got its name, I just assumed it was named for the abundance of invasive species present in and around the community, particularly along the I-5 corridor that splits the town. Anyway, I'm just glad there are no Oregon towns named after anything invasive (at least none that I know of). I just wouldn't want to give presentations about Oregon and have to reference the town of "Feral Pig, Oregon" or "Hydrilla, Oregon."

3. When you leave the town of Bakersfield heading east toward Tucson, Arizona, you traverse a highway called Weedpatch Highway, and once again, there does seem to be an abundance of weeds in this area. Weedpatch was featured in the Grapes of Wrath - it was the location of a government rescue center for distressed migrant workers fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl agricultural disaster, during the Great Depression. I settled back in the drivers seat, reflecting on the fact that I'm glad Oregon doesn't have an "Orange Hawkweed Highway" or "Garlic Mustard Boulevard."

I also reflected on how adaptable people are - people are capable of no longer see invasive species as invasive because they have become part of the landscape. It reminded me of the Keep America Beautiful litter campaign in the United States in 1971 - few recognized that litter was changing the landscape of our country until a public outreach campaign, featuring a tearful native American in a television commercial, captured the hearts and motivation of many. The resulting call for action changed the culture of how people view litter in our country.

A few years ago, scientists in Oregon compared the number of invasive species in Oregon rivers and streams to those of neighboring states, and the results were impressive - they indicated that Oregon has a lot to protect. We haven't lost the fight against invasive species in Oregon, and there remains places in our state where native species thrive. Our mental picture of what Oregon should look like retains many of the qualities of natural functioning ecosystems.

My recent trip to Arizona did a lot to instill in me the need to keep fighting the fight. Because those that have lost what once was no longer see what they have lost. And I never want our state song to be, "You don't know what you've got' til its gone."

Lisa DeBruyckere

Monday, March 11, 2013

Invasive Species-related Bills in the Oregon Legislature

Our elected representatives have returned to Salem. Every session they consider thousands of bills designed to modify or delete existing laws or create new ones to address current and emerging issues. This year there are a handful of bills related to invasive species. If you care about any of them, or if you care about protecting Oregon's economy and natural resources, now is the time to let your legislators know how you feel.

Bills come from a variety of sources, including citizens, lobbyists, business groups, etc. State agencies also propose legislation, usually to fix perceived problems with existing laws. Our ideas are vetted by the Department of Administrative Services and the Governor’s Office. If they survive, they become agency bills. State employees, like me, are officially neutral on all proposed legislation with the exception of “agency bills.”  

A good example is HB 2247. This is an agency bill proposed by the Department of Agriculture.  HB 2247 would delete obsolete statutes related to gorseaquatic weeds, and experiment stationsAnother section would get rid of a widely ignored law requiring farmers to post copies of the state weed law on all their farm machinery. All of these oldies predate the first edition of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) published  a whopping 60 years ago! It is time they were retired.

The final section of HB 2247 would correct an error from two sessions ago when Oregon's weed statutes were consolidated into ORS chapter 569. Previous to that, our weed laws were scattered across three different chapters related to agriculture. When the consolidation occurred, the existing civil penalty provisions didn’t migrate to the new chapter. HB 2247 would fix that. I drafted the legislative concept that became HB 2247, and I’m allowed to tell you I think it would be a good idea if it passes.

SB 571 would add the Marine Board to the Oregon Invasive Species Council as well as another at large seat. This is not an agency bill, but it has the blessing of the Governor’s office, the Marine Board, and the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC). ODA is neutral on this bill, but as the current chair of the OISC, I testified in favor of it on behalf of the Council. The Marine Board has been a valuable member of the Council and has had an at-large seat in recent years. It is especially important they be at the table now as we attempt to keep zebra and quagga mussels and other boat hitchhikers out of Oregon.

Other bills related to invasive species include:

SB 116 – reinstates the Shipping Transport of Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force, an important group that focuses on potential invasives associated with shipping pathways.
HB 2813 – bans Arundo donax (giant cane), a species currently being cultivated for biomass production to replace coal at the Boardman PGE plant. This species has been known to be invasive in warmer climates in the United States.
HB 2188 & HB 3364  create mechanisms to enhance cooperation, coordination, and communication amng agencies that implement integrated pest management.

ODA is neutral on these bills, and I have to keep my opinions to myself, but if you’re not a state employee, you can speak up, join the legislative process, and let your voice be heard. One thing I’ve learned about the legislative process is that our representatives like to know what their constituents are thinking and relatively few people take the time to tell them.

Dan Hilburn