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A Natural Resources Update from Senator Gordon Smith

Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, fishermen and timber communities are vital to sustaining our state’s economy and way of life.  This e-newsletter provides an update on my recent work in Congress to address some of the critical issues these groups are facing. 


Farm Bill Becomes Law

At my urging, in August of 2006, the Senate Agriculture Committee held its first official hearing in Oregon to discuss the new farm bill. Meeting in Redmond, the Committee listened to Oregon farmers and ranchers describe what they would like to see in the bill.  The 2008 Farm Bill finally became law in June of this year, and it is by far the best farm bill our state has ever seen.  Whether it is the permanent disaster trust fund that benefits our ranchers, the increased funding for specialty crops or incentives for domestic fuel produced from wood waste or wheat straw, this bill greatly benefits Oregon’s farmers and ranchers.  The bill also provides incentives for beginning farmers and ranchers so that rural America can thrive for future generations. Click here to read my statement on the 2008 Farm Bill.

Fighting for County Timber Payments

On July 30, 2008, I voted to provide a four-year extension of federal payments to Oregon’s timber-dependent counties.  The tax package would have reauthorized the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 through 2011, and provided full funding for 2009.   The Senate failed to garner the required 60 votes to consider the bill, but will look at two other options when it reconvenes in September.  The first proposal would attach full funding for 2009 to a tax extenders package from the Finance Committee.  The second would provide funds to counties through a one-year emergency supplemental and stimulus spending bill. I am deeply disappointed that partisan gridlock has kept Congress from delivering the funding Oregon needs to keep our counties afloat. I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to ensure Oregon’s counties receive the funding they so desperately need.

Maintaining and Monitoring Grazing on Public Lands

Oregon’s livestock industry depends on access to public lands for grazing.  Oregon cattlemen understand the need for sustainable management of grazing on public lands that balances the needs of ranchers with conservation efforts. On July 24, 2008, Senator Wyden and I sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey requesting that the Forest Service work with Oregon ranchers and Oregon State University to establish a workable monitoring program for grazing on public lands.  As our letter states: “We ask that the Forest Service provide sufficient funds so that the agency can adequately perform the monitoring required to ensure that grazing activities are in compliance with federal statutes and biological opinions applicable to federal lands.”  

Protecting Grazing and Hunting Rights

The Oregon Caves National Monument is undoubtedly important to our state.  While visitors enjoy touring this historical site, access to the land surrounding the Monument has provided the local community with support for agriculture, forestry and grazing.  On July 30, 2008, the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks met to discuss the Oregon Caves Monument Boundary Adjustment Act of 2008.   Although I am generally supportive of the legislation to adjust the boundary of this Monument in Southern Oregon, I will work with the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to protect grazing and hunting rights and focus on critical forest thinning projects that are necessary to prevent catastrophic fire in the Monument.  Click here to read my statement.

Compensating Ranchers for Wolf Predation

As most people in eastern Oregon know firsthand, wolves are arriving and multiplying in our state, presenting a real threat to ranchers and their livestock. On July 9, 2008, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands met to discuss the Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act of 2008.   This legislation would provide grants through the Department of the Interior to States and Tribes to support landowners both in preventing livestock predation and obtaining compensation for any losses.  While I support this measure, the bill as currently written does not include Oregon.  I have asked the sponsors of the legislation to work with me to make sure that Oregon is included in the bill and eligible for funding.   Click here to read my letter to the bill’s sponsors.

Clean Water Restoration Act

The so-called Clean Water Restoration Act, which I oppose, would greatly expand federal power under the Clean Water Act by removing the term “navigable” from the current statute and by providing a new, sweeping definition of the “waters of the .”  Proponents of the legislation claim that it will simply return federal enforcement of the 1972 Clean Water Act to where it was before recent Supreme Court rulings limited the scope.   However, I am concerned that this will harm water rights holders and will lead to decades of litigation over what the scope of the federal role is under this new expansive definition.  The Senate version, S. 1870, is sponsored by Senator Feingold and has 21 cosponsors.  It is pending in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has held hearings on the bill.  While enactment of this bill is highly unlikely this Congress, I expect the bill to be reintroduced in both the House and the Senate early next year. 

Working with Southern Oregon Ranchers on Grazing Buyout

Senator Wyden and I have worked with the local ranchers, residents and the conservation community to develop a fair compromise for all groups involved with grazing in this part of our state.  Earlier this summer, the Cascade Siskiyou Grazing Buyout legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This statement from Mike Dauenhauer, Jackson County Stockmen’s Association President and rancher, was presented to the Committee.  The bill must now go before the full Senate. 

National Park Access for Veterans

My legislation to create a Veterans Eagle Park Pass was recently approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  My bill, supported by Veterans of Foregin Wars and AmVets, would give veterans discounted entry to all federal parks across America.  A discounted pass for veterans to visit our nation's most treasured lands is a small but important thing we can do for those who have given so much.  An annual pass to all federal parks nationwide currently costs $80.  My legislation would make it available to veterans for $10.  The bill is now awaiting floor action in the Senate.

Emergency Aid for Fishing Communities

Oregon fishermen are facing another tough closure this season and aid is urgently needed to keep these fishermen and their families stable.  Fortunately, the 2008 Farm Bill, which I supported, contains $170 million in emergency aid for commercial and recreational fishing businesses affected by the west coast closure. This funding will allow our state’s fishing communities to stay afloat in the face of a near total closure of this year’s salmon season. 

Growing Oregon's Agriculture Future

Senator Wyden and I recently announced the approval of a Senate appropriations bill containing over $5 million for sustainable agriculture projects, infrastructure investment, and research.  The bill has been passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the first step for appropriations funding. This bill provides the funding for the following projects:

Wood Utilization Research (WUR) Center at OSU and other colleges - $4,841,000 - The WUR Program provides innovative science, technology and advanced business practices research and graduate education.  Funds will support new initiatives in the development of bio-products, composite materials, bio-based energy and nanotechnology that can help position Oregon to be a leader in these fields in the Western US and enhance competitiveness of domestic industry. 

Grass Seed Cropping Systems for Sustainable Agriculture - $150,000 - For research into sustainable production of grass seed, a major Oregon export, aimed at addressing critical environmental and economic challenges including the phase-out of open-field burning.  The project covers Oregon, Idaho and Washington, with Oregon-based scientists typically receiving more than half of available funds.

Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research - $300,000 - Funds for the Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research will support researchers and scientists to conduct a coordinated research program on berry and grape crops focused on genetics research, plant breeding, pest management, and processing and productions methods to improve quality 

Northwest Potato Variety Development Program - $750,000 - Funds are used for lab and field research towards the development of new potato varieties aimed at overcoming the current weaknesses of the Russet Burbank, the dominant variety in the Pacific Northwest, which is susceptible to a number of pests and diseases.

Organic Cropping Research for the Northwest - $149,000 - Funds will be used for research into the improvement and support of Oregon’s burgeoning organic agriculture industry.  A panel representing scientists, industry representatives and farmers will evaluate proposals and distribute available funds.

For more information on other Oregon projects and an update on the appropriation process click here.

Forest Service Cabin User Fee Fairness

On July 17, 2008, I sent a letter with my colleagues to Under Secretary Mark Rey of the Forest Service asking that the appraisal process for private cabins on public land be revised.  It has become apparent that the Forest Service is misinterpreting the congressional intent laid out in the Cabin User Fee Fairness Act.  The current appraisal protocol does not adequately consider the numerous restrictions already placed on cabin owners and may discourage the stewardship partnering that is so important on our public lands

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