An Update on Oregon’s Marine Reserves

Hello everyone!

As promised, I’m back with an update on HB 2903 and Oregon’s marine reserves. Buckle your seatbelt because you are in for a bumpy ride.

Back when I left you in April, everything was full steam ahead. HB 2903 had passed unanimously out of its first House committee and was sitting in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means awaiting the announcement of the state revenue forecast. To give you some context as to what that means, here is some background on the legislative process.

When a bill is created, it can be introduced in either chamber: the Senate or the House. In this case, the bill got its start in the House. Its first stop is the House floor where the bill will be read before the Chamber and referred to a policy committee for further discussion. In this case, HB 2903 was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water. Once a bill reaches committee, it needs to be scheduled for a public hearing, during which individuals may provide public testimony in reference to the bill and its objectives. Following the public hearing, the bill must be scheduled for a work session where a committee can act on a bill (e.g., make amendments or take a vote).

At this point, the committee can vote on the bill and, often, the bill will move back to the Chamber for a full vote. However, if a bill has a fiscal ask, as was the case with HB 2903, it has one more stop before it can be called for a vote on the floor: the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. There are some internal processes that go on once the bill reaches Ways and Means that we do not need to get into here. What is important is, if the bill makes its way out of its Ways and Means work session with a “do pass” recommendation, then it is ready to be put to a vote on the floor.

Once a bill successfully makes its way out of the first Chamber it then makes its way to the second, in this case, HB 2903 would have gone on to the Senate. There the bill will be read, make a procedural pitstop in Ways and Means, and then come back to the second Chamber floor for a vote. Assuming the bill withstands all of that, it will finally be passed on to the Governor to be signed into law.

A diagram of the legislative process describing a bill's movement from it's first reading until eventually being signed into law.
Diagram of the legislative process.

As you have probably gathered, HB 2903 did not make it that far.

The session took a sudden turn when Senate Republicans walked out on May 3rd (I’m not going to dig into it in this blog, but if you want to read more about it, you can do so here and here). In the state of Oregon, the Senate chamber must achieve a 2/3 quorum in order to vote on bills. Therefore, by walking out, Senate Republicans were able to effectively pause all bill movement in the Senate even though the Democratic party held the majority.

By the end of May, there was no sign of the Senate reaching quorum and HB 2903 was trapped in Ways and Means with nowhere to go. It was time to search for other avenues.

On top of policy bills like HB 2903, there are also bills that handle agency budgets. Passing these budgetary bills is one of the most important tasks for the State legislature. While policy bills will just die if they don’t pass during the regular session, budgetary bills must pass, and a special session will be called if the legislature cannot do so during the regular session. Therefore, Representative Gomberg, the Chair of the Coastal Caucus, got in contact with the Co-Chairs of Ways and Means and requested that the fiscal component of HB 2903 be included in HB 5509, which appropriates money from the General Fund to ODFW for a period of two years.

We knew this ask was going to be tough. Each session, the Governor’s office releases a recommended budget, which is essentially a proposal based on state revenue forecasts on how state funds should be allocated. The Governor’s office then negotiates with various parties, including legislative leaders and members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to generate a budget that will be voted on at the end of the session. When Governor Kotek released her recommended budget back in January, funds were looking tight, and many agencies were preparing to make cuts to afford for reduced revenues. One of those cuts was the Community Project Leader position within ODFW’s Marine Reserves program. So, the Caucus wasn’t just advocating for new funding, they were also working against a proposed cut.

On the one hand, this cut made sense: the position related to the cut had been vacant for three years. However, advocates and the Coastal Caucus argued the story around this vacancy was more complex and in part the result of two failed recruitments and a hiring freeze during the pandemic. It was the position of the Coastal Caucus that this context made the situation unique from other prolonged vacancies and that to permanently lose this position would be to permanently sever a critical connection point between coastal communities and marine reserves.

At this point, we had one last option: to advocate for the inclusion of HB 2903 and funding for cut position in the end of session budget reconciliation bill. This bill tends to be comprised of several smaller, often unrelated policies or amendments. Its tendency to have a little something for everyone gave this bill its nickname: the Christmas Tree Bill.

Around that time, the Senate returned to the floor, wrapping up the longest walkout in state history and leaving ten days to move all the remaining bills through the Senate. Now the marine reserves bill was not unpopular. In fact, it was extremely non-controversial and had a lot of community support. However, in the flurry of legislative action that followed the Senate’s return, funding for the marine reserves bill never materialized. It is unclear if under different circumstances marine reserves funding would have been given higher priority, but the pace of the final week of session certainly posed a challenge for legislators trying to negotiate for last-minute additions in the budgeting process.

I guess if I were to sum up the major lesson from this process, it would be **** happens. You can craft a bill to sail through the legislative process and a storm can come out of nowhere and sink it. In the end, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it wasn’t because we didn’t try hard enough, there were just so many incredibly important priorities this session and ours didn’t make the cut. And that doesn’t mean the journey is over. The Coastal Caucus is still very much committed to Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program and is actively strategizing for the coming short session. I’ve learned so much from this experience and I can’t wait to see how the next iteration of this work will turn out.

A photo of a woman and two Senators speaking on the Senate floor.
This is unrelated to marine reserves, but please enjoy this photo of me looking very professional on the Senate floor.

Inking Science into Policy

Hello everyone!

I will start off with an introduction. My name is Megan Davis, and I am a second year Ph.D. student in the Menge Lubchenco Lab at Oregon State University. I am broadly interested in the science-policy interface as it relates to the ways in which humans use marine space, from marine protection to energy production to aquaculture. For the past few months, I have had the incredible opportunity to witness how science informs policy (and vice versa) at the state level as the 2022-2023 Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow, working with the Coastal Caucus.

How I spend my time when I’m not in Salem.
Credit: Delaney Chabot

For those of you who have not interacted with this group before, the Coastal Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators that represent the Oregon coast. To put it a bit more plainly (because I certainly did not know what bicameral meant when I first applied for this position), that means that this group is composed of members from both parties from both the Senate and the House. This session, the Coastal Caucus is chaired by Representative David Gomberg (D, House District 10). The Caucus also consists of its Vice Chair, Senator Dick Anderson (R, Senate District 5), as well as Senator Brock Smith (R, Senate District 1), Senator Suzanne Weber (R, Senate District 16), Representative Boomer Wright (R, House District 9), Representative Cyrus Javadi (R, House District 32), and Representative Court Boice (R, House District 1). As the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow, I provide technical expertise on marine and coastal issues to the Caucus members and act as a resource for communication with coastal constituents and key stakeholder groups.

Together, the Coastal Caucus forms a powerful coalition that collectively ensures that marine and coastal issues receive adequate attention at the State level. Much of the strength of this group is derived from the bipartisan nature of the Caucus. When all these legislators come together to support an issue, it signals that it has broad support along the coast and, often, across Oregon. This is the case with Oregon’s marine reserves. This session, the Coastal Caucus put forth HB 2903, which is a fantastic example of how science can be harnessed to inform policy. This past week, I had the pleasure of joining Representative Gomberg and Charlie Plybon (a fixture in Oregon’s marine reserves community) to speak to this bill at the Marine Reserves Celebratory Summit (hosted by The Nature Conservancy and facilitated by Sea & Shore Solutions). I would like to share with you what we discussed at the Summit.

In 2012, Oregon completed the planning and designation of five marine reserves: Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua, and Redfish Rocks. The implementation and management of these reserves is led by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) based on standards established in HB 3013 (2009), SB 1510 (2012), and related administrative rules. As the state’s first long-term, nearshore ocean conservation and monitoring program, Oregon’s marine reserves system has been instrumental in tracking and understanding how our marine ecosystems are changing over time, informing policy and management decisions at the state level. It also represents the first comprehensive human dimensions research program focused on examining the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of the Oregon coast and coastal communities.

On top of establishing the reserves, SB 1510 required that an internal (ODFW) and external (Oregon State University) decadal assessment of the marine reserves be carried out in 2022. These rigorous scientific assessments resulted in a series of legislative and administrative recommendations:

  1. that appropriate funds be allocated to ODFW to continue the Marine Reserves program at the necessary capacity;
  2. that a mandate that supports the development of an Adaptive Management Plan for the ongoing management and evaluation of the program be provided; and
  3. that a detailed, collaborative process through which social monitoring data can be interpreted to affect policy decisions be defined.

For an extra layer of legitimacy, these recommendations were then endorsed by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, the original stakeholder and government policy forum for marine reserves and protected areas in the State of Oregon. Those recommendations were then presented to the Coastal Caucus, who built HB 2903 around them. To paraphrase Charlie Plybon, that’s not just incorporating science into policy, that’s inking science into policy.

So where is HB 2903 now? The bill made its way out of its first Committee (the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water) and now sits in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which is essentially that State’s budgetary committee. Once the State’s revenue forecast is released in mid-May, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means will determine how funds will be distributed to bills with associated fiscal asks, like HB 2903. Available funds are anticipated to be a bit tight this session, but the Coastal Caucus has put their full weight behind this bill, even making HB 2903 one of their priority fiscal asks for this session.

I have been so inspired by the legislators working to take this science-based policy from bill to law, and by all of the scientists, decisionmakers, and advocates who have put in over a decade of work to make Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program the success it is today. I’m excited to continue to work on this topic, both in the context of my fellowship and my dissertation. I will be checking back in (hopefully with an HB 2903 update) at the end of June!

The view from the Marine Reserves Celebratory Summit
Credit: Duncan Berry

Shellfish Initiative: Oregon’s efforts in a nationwide context

When I last wrote about the Oregon Shellfish Initiative, the bill to create it was working its way through the 2015 legislative session. House Bill 2209 passed both houses and was signed by the Governor, and a whole new phase of work began. The bill created the Oregon Shellfish Task Force, an 11-member group charged with producing a report to the 2017 Legislature with recommendations related to shellfish in Oregon. The issues to be addressed by the Task Force include creating an efficient permitting process for shellfish growers–eliminating regulatory overlap and gaps where possible and encouraging communication among regulatory agencies, establishing best management practices for cultivated shellfish in Oregon, protection and restoration of wild and native shellfish stocks for conservation as well as recreational harvest, supporting ocean acidification research in collaboration with shellfish growers, and assessing the socioeconomic impacts of commercial and recreational shellfish on Oregon’s coastal communities.

Around this same time, my term as the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow was coming to an end. Fortunately for me, I was able to move across the street to the Governor’s staff offices and into the position previously occupied by the fabulous Kaity Goldsmith as the Natural Resource Policy Fellow working on ocean and coastal issues. Though the Governor’s office doesn’t have an official role with the Task Force, I’ve been able to support the work in an unofficial capacity, providing an informational presentation at the first meeting, and meeting with committee staff to provide background information and help ensure that interested stakeholders are at the table.

The Task Force convened in November and has been meeting approximately every other month. The fourth meeting is coming up next week, and this halfway point in their process seems like a good time to weigh in on their work to date. After an initial organizational and informational first meeting in November to bring up to speed those TF members who were new to the conversation, the January meeting was held at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and focused on shellfish research in Oregon, particularly related to the effects of ocean acidification and changing ocean conditions on oysters and other bivalves. The meeting also included a tour of the research facilities at HMSC where Oregon State researchers Chris Langdon and Burke Hales research the effects of changing ocean chemistry, including Dr. Langdon’s Molluscan Broodstock Program which aims to select oyster broodstock that is resistant to increased CO2, temperature, and other fluctuations. The third meeting, held in Salem at the Capitol, focused on the role of federal and state agencies in the shellfish industry, as well as conservation concerns related to wildstock and native oysters. Representatives from several federal and state agencies discussed their role in permitting and regulating the shellfish industry in Oregon. It was a very productive meeting, with some agencies presenting efforts they are already making to simplify the permitting process, and several others bringing recommendations for opportunities to increase inter-agency collaboration and communication in order to make the process more efficient. Dr. Bill Hanshumaker, Oregon Sea Grant Chief Scientist, also presented to the Task Force on work Sea Grant will be doing to support development of a coordinated statewide program to support Oregon aquaculture, expansion of new and existing shellfish operations through reduced regulatory barriers, and supporting shellfish aquaculture operations in being more diversified and sustainable in the nearshore, offshore, and estuary environments.

On a related note, I was invited to represent Oregon in a Shellfish Initiatives session at the World Aquaculture Society triennial conference in Las Vegas in February. The session was kicked off by Michael Rubino, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture in Silver Spring, Maryland, who gave an update on the National Shellfish Initiative, introduced in 2011. The presentations then started with Alaska and proceeded south with Washington, Oregon, and California, and then to the Gulf states and up the East Coast including Maryland, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It was fascinating to hear where other states are in their Shellfish Initiative process and how they’re approaching supporting their shellfish industries. It was also the first time I had a clear sense of where Oregon falls in this larger context, and I was pleased to note that we are right in step with the other states–not as far along as Washington, Maryland, and Rhode Island, all of whom started before we did, but further along than other states who haven’t had the support of legislators like our Coastal Caucus who have really helped drive this process.

I do work on other issues besides shellfish, but it’s been great to have the continuity with this effort for the last sixteen months or so, and to see the  results taking shape.

In my next post I’ll try to encapsulate the other things I’ve gotten to work on:  ocean acidification, marine debris, and the launch of the Oregon Ocean Science Trust.

 

Oregon Shellfish Initiative Update

Working as the Sea Grant Legislative Fellow staffing Oregon’s Coastal Caucus, I was given the opportunity help craft House Bill 2209, the Oregon Shellfish Initiative. The intent of the Shellfish Initiative is to support Oregon’s oyster industry and preserve wild stocks of oysters for recreational harvest. The oyster industry in Oregon has already felt the impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia, and a major component of the Initiative includes funding for continued research and monitoring capabilities.

I had the opportunity to visit Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and see Dr. Chris Langdon’s lab which is home to the Molluscan Broodstock Program. Dr. Langdon and his grad students have been breeding and selecting oyster lines for productivity in changing ocean chemistries. The Shellfish Initiative contains an appropriation for the MBP, as the legislature sees that this research is vital to understanding how different molluscan shellfish will respond to fluctuations in the carbon cycle, and helping the shellfish industry mitigate those impacts through broodstock that is best adapted to the conditions.

I was also able to tour the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Netarts Bay, which works closely with Dr. Langdon’s lab. Whiskey Creek had experienced substantial larval die-offs, and it was only due to monitoring equipment that detected more than just simple pH measurements that they were able to determine the cause of the die-offs. Whiskey Creek is now able to monitor and adjust the chemistry of the seawater tanks in which they raise broodstock, which they supply to approximately 75% of oyster growers on the West Coast. The Shellfish Initiative also appropriates funds to Oregon State University for ongoing support of the research partnership with Whiskey Creek Hatchery.

These partnerships were in place before the creation of the Oregon Shellfish Initiative, but it’s been extremely gratifying to me to be working on legislation to fund this important research. The Initiative also increases funding to the Oregon Department of Agriculture for more frequent water quality monitoring in Tillamook Bay, with the aim of being able to reopen the bay for oyster harvest more quickly after a closure. If the Tillamook Bay pilot project is successful, the increased monitoring could be expanded to other estuaries in the future.

The Shellfish Initiative also convenes a Shellfish Task Force which will report back to the legislature by the 2016 short session with recommendations on how to continue to enhance and expand the commercial oyster industry while addressing the impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia on both cultivated and wild shellfish. Ideally, Sea Grant will continue to play a role as a bridge between research, industry, agencies, and coastal communities as the Shellfish Initiative recommendations are implemented.

The bill had a successful public hearing and work session in the House Committee on Ag & Natural Resources, and will soon be heard in the Ways & Means Natural Resource Subcommittee. There is a national shellfish initiative, Washington has a shellfish initiative, and California has one in the works, so the timing seems perfect for the Oregon Shellfish Initiative, and all the parties are committed to moving it forward.

Watch this space for more updates!

Session Underway, Full Speed Ahead

It took me a few tries, but I’m finally able to log in and post, so here is my first blog entry as a Sea Grant Scholar! With the legislative session underway, things are moving at an incredibly fast pace. I’m working out of Rep Caddy McKeown’s office as she’s chairing the Coastal Caucus this session. Before session started, the Rep hosted her two legislative staffers and I at her home in Coos Bay. We met with Port and city officials in the district, got a great tour of the area, admired the beautiful southern Oregon coast scenery, and ate the best smoked fish I’ve ever had.

Back in Salem, we hit the ground running. One of my primary focuses is helping craft an Oregon Shellfish Initiative aimed at enhancing opportunities for shellfish aquaculture, protecting wild shellfish habitat and commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries, and promoting research on ocean acidification. California and Washington have passed Shellfish Initiatives, so we’re able to look to those as templates, but Oregon has unique challenges, largely due to having much less available land for shellfish aquaculture. This initiative is bringing together industry, agencies, fisheries, and researchers to identify the best practices and priorities and is serving as a crash course in policy making for this biologist. And as a great admirer of the humble mollusk, I’m honored to be its champion. More updates to come. IMG_5797

End of session update… a bit late

Hello all,

Having decompressed from what was a long and exhausting legislative session, I thought I’d share a little bit of what I wrote in my final report to Sea Grant. It gives a (relatively) brief overview of what was a long and, at times, stressful six months of my life.

I will break it up into chunks, so as not to bore you with a block of text. Without further ado, what follows is a brief introduction to the Oregon Legislature:

Never in a million years did I imagine I would ever be working in politics. Yet when I applied for the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellowship, I had no idea how deeply immersed I would become in Oregon politics generally, and coastal Oregon politics specifically. It certainly has been an experience I will carry with me, and put lessons learned to use, for the rest of my life. What follows is my report on the 2011 legislative session through the eyes of the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow.

The Legislature

To begin, it is worth mentioning the unique political climate that existed in Salem during the 2011 session. While the Senate was narrowly controlled by Democrats (by a 16-14 majority) he House of Representatives was split evenly (30-30) between Republicans and Democrats, something that had never happened before. Much of January was spent determining how business of the House would be conducted. Every House committee would have a Republican and Democrat co-chair, who would each need to agree to hear a bill in committee. There would be a Republican and Democrat co-Speaker of the House, who would alternate days presiding over floor sessions.

Needless to say, in order for a bill to pass the House, it had to have bipartisan support. While theoretically this created an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve Oregon’s problems, in practice it made it all too easy for one party, or even one member, to kill a bill that they didn’t want to see passed.

The Coastal Caucus

Operating as usual in this unique environment was the Oregon Coastal Caucus, which the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow is assigned to support. A bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators, the Coastal Caucus is unique in Oregon politics. It consists of the Senators and Representatives from coastal districts, as well as the Senator from the Klamath basin (due to the region’s dependence on salmon and other oceangoing fish). The members are, for the most part, long-serving; all are in at least their third term. For the 2011 legislative session, the Coastal Caucus consisted of: Rep Cowan (chair), Rep Krieger, Rep Boone, Rep Witt, Rep Roblan, Sen Verger, Sen Johnson, Sen Kruse and Sen Whitsett.

The group meets weekly during session, for an hour in the morning, to discuss issues of concern. The Coastal Caucus operates on a consensus-only basis: if they have consensus on an issue, they weigh in on it. If even one member disagrees with the group, no action is taken. There is a sense among members that the coast is often overlooked in Oregon politics, and they feel strongly that it is their duty to protect their constituents. While there are both Republicans and Democrats representing coastal Oregon, party lines are often blurred, and issues stretch across individual districts.

Because of the composition of the group, they are able to have tremendous influence on issues that they choose to weigh in on. In an evenly divided House of Representatives, that influence should have been even stronger. 

Greetings from the Oregon Capitol!

Hi all,

My name is Zack Reeves and I’m currently the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow. I’ve never blogged before (technology these days!), but it should be fun. I’ll post a more detailed update later in the week, to give a rundown of what has happened this session. It’s been an interesting six months, to say the least.

Goodbye for now.