A bill introduced in the Oregon Senate on Wednesday, May 19 by a bipartisan group of senators would strip the Oregon Board of Forestry of their statutory power to appoint Oregon’s state forester, reducing their role to that of an advisory one in the matter. The Oregon Senate would still have to confirm any appointment by the governor.
Listed as chief sponsors of the bill were state senators Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie), Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), and Jeff Golden (D-Ashland). Joining as regular sponsors were Lynn Findley (R-Vale), Tim Knopp (R-Bend), and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton)
SB 868 would also transform the role of the state forester into a four-year term instead of an indefinite role.
The Oregon state forester acts as the chief executive officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
State Forester Peter Daugherty announced his resignation from the role on May 7 in the wake of significant financial struggles in the agency he leads and an unflattering report from accounting consultant firm MGO, as reported by the Oregonian. Daugherty’s last day as state forester is May 31.
One of the chief sponsors of the bill, Senator Kathleen Taylor, took aim at the Board of Forestry at a May 5 joint committee of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources.
“The body that oversees the Department of Forestry is the Board of Forestry,” Taylor said. “And I don’t feel that they have really stepped up and done their job as a whole.
Taylor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bill was introduced the day before the Board of Forestry met Thursday morning to launch the initial process of appointing an interim state forester and a recruitment process to select a permanent replacement for Daugherty.
The members of the Board of Forestry are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Oregon Senate.
The board expects to vote on an interim appointment for one candidate at an as-yet unannounced emergency board meeting next week. During Thursday’s Board of Forestry meeting, one board member opined that at minimum, the process to select a more permanent state forester could take at least six months.
But if SB 868 passes and is signed by the governor, the emergency clause in the bill would mean it would become law when the governor signed it, which would likely preempt the board’s recruitment process and ability to appoint a state forester, shifting the final say immediately to Governor Brown.
“In the past, the Governor has been supportive of similar approaches, and we think that this bill raises important questions––however since the bill was just introduced our office hasn’t had an opportunity yet to fully review it,” Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for the governor, said in an email to the Salmonberry Magazine. Boyle noted that the governor’s office generally doesn’t take a position on bills until they’ve been through the legislative process.
Board of Forestry Chair Jim Kelly brought up the specter of the bill during Thursday’s board meeting, explaining the content of the bill, and noting that he didn’t believe it would change the current actions of the board.
“I am assuming that there is a very good chance that that bill could get passed, and if quickly signed by the governor that our role becomes that consulting role at that point,” Kelly said.
“We can’t make any assumptions about it passing or not, and need to proceed with the authority as we have it now,” Kelly added.
Kelly did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Governor Brown already made her wishes known in the board’s appointment process for an Interim State Forester. Present at Thursday’s board meeting was Jason Miner, Governor Brown’s Natural Resources Policy Director.
Miner said that Brown had expressed her desire for “an interim and a permanent State Forester who are really implementing change – the recommended changes that will both be [in the existing reports and presumptively from legislative action].”
This story has been updated with a quote from the Governor’s Office.