Oregon lawmakers urged to boost noxious weed spending by $1 million

Poison hemlock is a common noxious weed in Oregon. House Bill 2043 would appropriate $1 million from the general fund to carry out the Oregon Department of Agriculture's noxious weed programs in the 2017-2019 biennium.

SALEM — Oregon farm groups are urging lawmakers to boost noxious weed control funding by $1 million, arguing the investment will prevent even costlier future battles against invasives.

House Bill 2043 would appropriate $1 million from the general fund to carry out the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s noxious weed programs in the 2017-2019 biennium.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut ourselves short now,” said Peter Kenagy, a Benton County farmer who testified in support of HB 2043 at a Feb. 7 hearing before the House Agriculture Committee.

Under Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget for the next biennium, ODA is slated to cut its biocontrol program for invasive weeds, which relies on predatory insects to suppress unwanted plants.

Eliminating the weed biocontrol position, which is currently vacant, would save the ODA $250,000 at a time when state agencies are under financial pressure due to a looming $1.8 billion state budget shortfall.

“If we don’t keep funding these things, we’re going to pay for it later,” Kenagy said. “Cutting money out of the budget for this, we’ll pay for it and our kids will pay for it.”

Representatives of the Oregon Farm Bureau, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregonians for Food and Shelter and the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts also testified in favor of the bill.

Noxious weeds are estimated to cost Oregon’s economy about $83 million per year, said Katie Fast, executive director of the Oregonians for Food and Shelter agribusiness group.

Lawmakers should not consider adding new natural resource programs until “base programs” such as noxious weed control are funded, Fast said.

Invasive species don’t recognize boundaries and the problem with noxious weeds will get worse if ignored, said Michelle Delepine on behalf of the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts.

“This isn’t something you can just put on hold,” she said.

Aside from weeds that already afflict Oregon farmers, the state is facing an incursion of new invasives, such as the flowering rush that’s been found growing along the Columbia river, said Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.

The weed spreads by pieces of root breaking off and traveling downstream, with the populations in Oregon and Washington thought to have originated in Montana’s Flathead Lake, he said.

Flowering rush threatens to clog up irrigation systems and disrupt ecosystems to the detriment of native fish.

“We need all the help we can get,” said Hansell.

During the Feb. 7 hearing, the House Agriculture Committee also heard testimony on several other bills:

• House Bill 2327 would require the recipients of grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to obtain liability insurance for projects aimed at improved water quality and riparian habitats. The cost would be covered by grant funds, so the added expense wouldn’t be borne by recipients.

The bill would also repeal statutory language related to a “healthy streams partnership” that’s no longer operational and add a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a non-voting member of OWEB’s board, among other provisions.

• House Bill 2254 would allow individual containers of Oregon fresh produce to be unlabeled if they’re headed for export to foreign markets. Under current law, all such containers must be labeled for sale, which imposes an added burden for exporters. The change would allow foreign buyers to label Oregon farm goods when they arrive in another country.

• House Bill 2255 would update Oregon’s milk-related statutes to align with federal rules for pasteurized milk safety, because current statutes are outdated and don’t conform with the federal requirements.

• House Bill 2256 would clarify that nutritional supplements are regulated as food by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which will ensure the agency has the authority for potential enforcement actions.

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