From GNRO to OWEB, that’s a wrap

From one government acronym to another, my time as a policy fellow with the Governor’s Natural Resources Office is over, and I am moving on to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board as the Water Vision Coordinator-sounds cool, huh?

I was initially hired to work with marine policy, but I learned about so much more. Along with helping with the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Council, and the Rocky Habitats Working Group, I was helped with legislative projects, as well as pesticides, wildfire, and water policy. I was lucky enough to learn an incredible deal about how the policy I learned about in the classroom, is actually applied on the ground. A plan for ocean acidification is great, but we have to be able to pay for it. How do you balance OAH and a carbon cap-and-trade market? Both address climate change, but both require substantial resources to implement. Luckily that wasn’t my job to figure that out, but it is fascinating to be privy to those conversations.

The most fascinating thing I found about my time in the Governor’s Office was the timescale on which things happen. During the 2019 legislative session, conversations about the 2021 budgets were already happening. In the meantime, strategic legislative decisions are made on the quickly, based on the best available information. The long-term planning and quick, savvy decision-making showed me how incredible of a beast government really is (so overwhelming).

My last project with the Governor’s Office, and new job, is the 100-Year Water Vision, and is a text-book example of long-term planning and quick decision making. The goal is to create strategy to invest in Oregon’s water infrastructure, to ensure that there is clean and abundant water for now, and 100-years into the future. To do that that state must first assess what information we have, and what information we need to make big management decisions, while also engaging local communities now, to develop trusting relationships for the future.

Serving Governor Kate Brown, and being a part of the 100-Year Water Vision has been such an honor, and something that I would have never been able to achieve without Sea Grant. The Natural Resources Policy Fellowship has given me the opportunity to learn from experts in virtually every field, from every agency, and witness policy making at the highest state-level.

This fellowship has allowed me to break into the field, and create invaluable connections. Along with jumpstarting my career in natural resources, Sea Grant has provided me with the skills and a support system to grow and thrive into the future. Thank you!

A Session Reflection

Sine die is the constitutionally defined date that the legislative session ends. There is an interesting feeling of uneasy calmness at the Capitol. While a large percentage of bills died in the first session deadline in April, there are “zombie bills” still floating around. Zombie bills, are bills that were sent to either the Joint Ways and Means or the Rules committees, which aren’t subject to session deadlines. These bills are often kept alive because they have a very broad “Relating to…” clause, like “Relating to the environment” or “Relating to education”, and can be re-written later during the session.

Because zombie bills can be re-written, policies that may have died earlier in the session, may come back. For this reason, the “bad policies” that were a concern in the beginning of the session, could still be a threat. The importance of soft skills, like analyzing human interactions, has never been so clear to me. Some committees are receiving informational presentations about marine reserves and coastal tourism, and some are approving the Governor’s executive appointments some committees are kind of slow, kind of fast, and definitely ominous.

I’ve had the incredible opportunity to help with passing the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act, which seeks to prevent backsliding of state air and water quality standards that occur at the federal level. I’ve been tasked with developing testimony for Governor’s Office staff and floor speeches for legislators, brainstorming responses to potential opposition of the bill, and collaborating with state agencies to develop strategy. While the learning curve is steep, I feel like this have given me a crash course in communicating and developing policy.

What is the goal of the policy? Defining the goal of a policy is critical in ensuring effective development and outcome, as well as garnering support for the idea. What is the purpose? The next step, is to refine the policy by defining what the mechanisms that will be used to execute the goal. I have found that concise and clear marketing of a policy requires the integration of these two aspect. With 1,500 bills circulating during the session, it is impossible for legislators to understand the ins and outs of all of them. A common theme I have seen during committee hearings and floor votes is that legislators are unaware or unsure of what a policy is or does. Furthermore, when politics are concerned, sewing misinformation about a policy is an effective tool to stall or kill a bill.

In my short time observing the legislature, I’ve also been able to reflect on the degree to which messaging and public relations drive politics. The constant balance of context, timing, and substance is a delicate dance. The timing for the introduction of a policy is all dependent on the type of policy and the current political climate. For example, the timing and context of the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act was in direct response to the Trump Administration rolling back several clean air and water protections. The substance was also important, in that the Governor’s policy protected the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts; three landmark environmental protection policies that, in general, are viewed positively and as necessary. The timing, context and substance of the policy were critically balanced in demonstrating the urgent need for it.

The Oregon Environmental Protection Act based both legislative chambers and was signed by Governor Kate Brown on March 24, 2019.

(Attempting) To Resolve Natural Resources Conflicts

I received an incredible opportunity to attend a portion of the annual meeting for the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society. One event that particularly stood out to me was a workshop about building interpersonal and group communication skills for resolving conflict in natural resources. From my experience, natural resource conflict usually arises between industries, conservation, and regulatory bodies. Whether it be commercial fishing, ranching, logging, or farming, there is almost always and equal and opposite conservation voice, advocating for the revision of industry practices and policy and a government agency constrained by time, resources, and politics.

So how do high level policy makers leverage the interests of all stakeholders? While one side heavily supports multiple sectors of Oregon’s diverse economic profile, the other side may be categorically opposed to practices used to mitigate occupational hazards; for example, ranchers lethally removing grey wolves that threaten cattle. How do we mitigate what one group says is morally reprehensible and what the other group says is necessary for economic viability?

In conflict resolution, the strategy that you decide to use depends on the varying levels of importance that policy substance and maintaining relationships have at any given moment (Figure 1). Each strategy is appropriate in different situations, and representative of the time and resources available for the process. While collaboration is typically the goal for long-term, complex, and integrative problems, a competing strategy may be the most appropriate when an emergency is impending and a quick solution is critical.

Figure 1. Situation dependent conflict resolution strategies (adapted from

Evaluating and deciding which strategy to use requires a great deal of introspection and flexibility. It require a significant amount of self-awareness to determine if a policy detail is more important than one aspect of a relationship. In reflecting on which strategy I most often use, I typically fluctuate between compromising and competing. This has mainly been due to my short term involvement in different projects, where sustaining and building relationships are much less relevant to solving the acute problem at hand.

This workshop also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the fact that while I typically use the strategy that is most compatible with my personality, it is important to be flexible and utilize the strategy most compatible with the situation and groups I am interacting with. I’ve always been under the impression that collaboration was the best way to handle any problem, however, I did learn that avoiding conflict or accommodating another person’s viewpoint are equally acceptable and valid strategies.

This workshop left me with several lingering questions that will likely only be answered with extensive time and experience;

  • When collaboration is the best strategy, what do we do when groups are too polarized to value relationships?
  • Is it ever possible to fully compromise and how do we mitigate if one side feels like they’ve given up more than the other?
  • How do we effectively balance conflict resolution within agreeing and between opposing groups?

There may not be a right answer to any of these questions, but it is important to evaluate and possess enough self-awareness to contemplate the solutions and promote the development and growth of my own interpersonal communication skills.

Q1 in the Governor’s Office

The first few months in the Governor’s Natural Resources Office have been quite eventful to say that least. From Executive Orders to agency legislative concepts, in my short time here I feel like I’ve been exposed to the guts of how the government works. I’ve been thrown head first into the “Oregon Way”, which describes our processes of implementing policy using collaboration and inclusion. I’ve found that there’s a committee, council, board, commission, or task force for just about everything and everyone!

I’ve only just discovered the wide variety of stakeholders that provide diverse perspectives in natural resource policy-making. It’s truly amazing to see the collaborative process of juggling and satiating groups with completely different agendas regarding the same policy or topic. Given the time of year, Governor Kate Brown’s Recommended Budget is a major discussion item, primarily the proposed creation of the Oregon Climate Authority (OCA). The OCA would absorb the Oregon Department of Energy, assume the operations of the Governor’s Carbon Policy Office, and acquire greenhouse gas emission tracking and reporting tasks at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. It would also provide a market place Oregon’s Carbon Cap and Invest program (should that legislation pass in the 2019 session). There was also a suite of proposals to aim to improve state water quality.

I had the opportunity to observe budget discussion in a variety of different contexts; the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) and the Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF) are two that come to mind. OPAC is a body composed of conservation, natural resource, and local government stakeholders. This council advises the Governor about ocean policy, such as ocean acidification mitigation and oil and gas exploration on the Oregon coast. EJTF is composed of members who represent and advocate for minority communities, low-income communities, environmental interests and industry groups. The Task Force guides agency environmental decision-making to protect “Environmental justice communities”, which are communities traditionally underrepresented in public processes.

OPAC’s primary interests were grounded in how the Governor plans to address the issue of ocean acidification and her position on future offshore oil and gas legislation. Because the words “ocean acidification” were not in the budget, it was important to communicate that the creation of the OCA, and a carbon cap and trade program, seeks to address the ultimate root of the problem, which is global climate change. As a lead policy maker in the state, the Governor has the power to guide long-term, institutionalized solutions and for that reason, focuses less on implementation of localized restoration efforts or research initiatives. The Council also felt to make it clear that they were going to recommend the Governor support the permanent ban on offshore oil and gas legislation. OPAC appeared to be very concerned with high-level topics, with big solutions, as chronic problems in out oceans often require.

I carried what I had learned interacting with OPAC, into the EJTF meeting the following week. I was surprised that the Task Force was mostly interested in the budget funding allocated to eliminating the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) water quality permit backlog. They asked if minority communities, particularly Latino communities, had been disproportionately impacted by this backlog and how DEQ planned to prioritize queue clearing. They were also curious about how DEQ was handling air quality violations following a fire that had occurred at an auto-dismantling facility in the Cully neighborhood earlier this year. I noticed that the members on the EJTF were primarily concerned with local issues impacting very specific communities, rather than the overarching issue of climate change. This is likely due to the fact that the predominate issues facing environmental justice communities, are the result of outsourced environmental impacts of development.

Environmental Justice Task Force with Governor Kate Brown

The main thing I gathered during my interaction with these two different groups is that the environmental issues that a group of people deem as important is completely dependent on the scale and distribution of the problem. This bit of knowledge is important to consider when interacting and advocating for each group, and also when it’s time for the Governor to appoint new members. In the short time with the Governor’s Office, I’ve found that every commission, board and task force provides a place for each stakeholder group to ensure their interests are advocated for in the natural resource policy making process. Each provides a unique perspective to a problem that the collective aims to solve.