Legislative Priorities for 2024

by Joe Liebezeit, Assistant Director of Conservation – Statewide; Micah Meskel, Assistant Director of Conservation – Urban; and Quinn Read, Director of Conservation

We are kicking off the new year with a fast and furious legislative session. On February 5, the Oregon legislature will begin a 35-day sprint to get a dizzying array of bills over the finish line. Bird Alliance of Oregon has been working for months to prepare for session and will be working on bills in each of the below priority areas to protect our state’s wildlife and wild places.

Cape Perpetua, photo by Oregon Marine Reserves
Cape Perpetua, photo by Oregon Marine Reserves

Addressing the Housing Crisis and Protecting Nature

Bill Number: SB 1537 (LC 19)
Governor Tina Kotek – her only bill this session

Oregon is in the midst of a housing affordability and homelessness crisis. Our longtime vision is to make Portland the greenest metropolitan area in the country—one in which all people have access to affordable housing in complete, healthy, equitable, and climate-resilient communities surrounded by nature. Together with our conservation partners, we are working with the governor’s office to help advise and inform housing policy for this session. Although we are encouraged by the progress we’ve made in discussions, we remain concerned that indiscriminate development will threaten our storied land-use system. Prioritizing lower- and moderate-income housing and investing in infrastructure within existing urban-growth boundaries will more readily create housing when and where we need it. We will advocate for solutions to increase housing affordability that also improve climate resilience and protect nature for people and wildlife.

Marine Reserves

Bill Number: HB 4123 (LC 225)
Sponsor: Rep. Gomberg

Oregon’s marine reserves and marine protected areas were designated in 2012 and cover about 9% of our state waters. These underwater sea parks limit fishing and resource extraction to help protect marine resources and biodiversity and act as natural laboratories to better understand how our ocean is impacted by stressors like climate change. In 2023, we worked on a bill (HB 2903) to enhance the marine reserves program, administered by ODFW, based on recommendations from an Oregon State University 10-year assessment. Despite bipartisan support from the Coastal Caucus, we fell short. Thanks to Representative David Gomberg’s leadership and a strong coalition, we will attempt to pass this bill again. For a small price tag (about $1 million every two years) we can make Oregon’s Marine Reserves Program one of the strongest in the nation and better protect our iconic ocean for marine wildlife, commercial fisheries, and coastal communities.

Wildlife Omnibus Bill

Sponsor: Rep. Ken Helm
Bill Number: HB 4148 (LC 198)

We support Representative Ken Helm’s wildlife omnibus bill, which includes support for a robust coexistence program within the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The intent is to reduce conflicts and promote coexistence between humans and wildlife through outreach, education, and training, support for legally permitted wildlife rehabilitators, and other work related to living with wildlife. The bill also creates a wildlife disease program to improve the state’s response to zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread between animals and people), provides support to the Invasive Species Council, and boosts ongoing work to support wildlife mobility and habitat connectivity.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission

Last year, the legislature passed a bill to restructure the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which sets up this session for a potential upset—with a new seat to fill and several reappointments. In previous years, commission seats have been used as political trading stock by governors willing to throw wildlife interests under the bus to advance other policies and appease industry interests. Bird Alliance of Oregon will watchdog this process and advocate for diverse candidates committed to conservation, science, and meaningful public engagement. (See the cover story for more information.)

Once the legislative session gets underway in February, things will move quickly. Your voice is so important in getting important conservation bills over the finish line. We will be in touch in the weeks to come with ways to get involved, but you can help right now by calling your legislators and telling them you want them to support these bills.