Monday, April 28, 2014

1% for Protecting Oregon from Invasion

  • posted by Carolyn Devine on behalf of Dan Hilburn 
“What if we decided we to spend 1% of existing fees related to trade and travel on invasive species?” That is the question Mark Systma, OISC Chair, and I posed to the Governor’s Natural Resources Cabinet last week.

Oregonians have another opportunity to do something bold in the field of environmental protection. The 1% pathways connection would be as audacious as the bottle bill and just as important in the long run. Here is a summary of the pitch we made to the Cabinet.

Improving Greater Sage-Grouse Populations Requires Managing Invasive Weeds

Invasive species are tied into most of the environmental hot topics of the day: clean water, working landscapes, reducing exposure to toxics, and protecting habitat for wildlife. For example, there is an ongoing effort to halt declines in Greater Sage-Grouse populations with the objective of keeping Greater Sage-Grouse off the endangered species list. Weeds such as cheatgrass and medusahead rye are part of the problem. When these invasive grasses move into Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, fires become more frequent than would naturally happen. This is bad for sagebrush and other native vegetation that the Greater Sage-Grouse depend on.
We won't have success protecting Greater Sage-Grouse without dealing with the related invasive species problem.

Fighting Weeds with Herbicides is a Necessary Evil

Another current topic we highlighted was herbicide drift from conifer release sprays. At first glance these appear to be a straight-forward cases of pesticide misuse, but guess which plants are out-competing the desired forest seedlings: mostly Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberry and other invaders. If it weren’t for these invasive weeds we wouldn’t be using so many herbicides.

A Growing Funding Gap for Fighting Invasives as Globalization Increases 

Hopefully, having established for the Cabinet that invasive species matter, we went on to describe the widening funding gap that we face in Oregon. The rate of introduction of invasive species is correlated with trade and travel. Hitchhiking weed seeds and woodborers are a side effect of globalization. Increasing trade and travel means more and more introductions. At the same time funding for survey and eradication programs is declining. We’re falling behind.

Solution:  Link Invasive Species Funding to the Pathways of Invasion

The ideal solution would be to link the funding for invasive species programs to the trade and travel activities that bring these problems to us. This is the essence of the 1% for invasive species proposal.
To do this we wouldn’t need to invent new taxes. We already collect fuel taxes, lodging taxes, landing fees, docking fees, imported timber fees, aquatic invasive species permit fees, and lots of other fees related to trade and travel. All we would have to do is to decide as a state to spend 1% of the revenue collected from those existing fees, about $5 million annually, on invasive species response and we could close our funding gap not just for next year but for the long run.

Cabinet members listened and asked good questions. How would the money be used and who would control its distribution? What about federal lands and federal agencies, do they pay their fair share? Do all the pathways have associated fees? What about the constitutional dedication of fuel taxes to roads and rights-of-way? Our agency already spends millions on vegetation control, would that count for something? Would this be like the 1% for art program? The questions indicated to me that they were thinking seriously about the proposal. Afterwards, Richard Whitman, the Governor’s Natural Resource Policy Advisor, indicated he’d talk to the agency heads individually and get back to us.
Now we wait with our fingers crossed to see if the idea catches hold.
I’m optimistic by nature but not naive. I recognize that because we are not proposing a new tax or fee, this idea would represent 1% budget cuts for other programs. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For weeds, we know that for every $1 spent in preventing a new species from invading, the state saves $34 in management later. That's significant. We’ve put the ball in the air and our shot hasn’t been blocked yet. We’ll know if this first shot goes in by whether we get permission to draft a bill for the next legislative session.

If that happens we have a chance to move Oregon into another landmark natural resources decision in 2015. Are you on our team and ready to play? We’re early in the first quarter and it’s a long game.

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