Oregon governor’s advisers to seek natural resource consensus

Capital Press Staff Writer


SALEM, Ore. — Balancing environmental protection with the need for rural economic recovery will pose one of the most significant challenges to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s administration over the next four years — but it’s a challenge from which there’s no turning away, according to the governor’s top natural resources policy advisor.

“There’s no question that the livelihood of rural Oregon hinges on agriculture and forestry, and on working landscapes,” said former State Forester Jim Brown, who now heads Kulongoski’s natural resource advisory team. “That means the issue is jobs and the environment — not jobs or the environment.”

The difficulty lies in “figuring out how we avoid rolling back any of our environmental policies, and how to do it in a way that makes sense of them and makes them work for us,” said Brown.

Finding agreement and reaching workable consensus within the more-often-than-not fractious political atmosphere that surrounds issues related to environmental and land use policy won’t be easy, Brown acknowledged.

“That’s one of the unique things about natural resource policy; there’s not a lot of agreement on the best way to change it,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of polar extremes on whatever issues you pick. The challenge is finding the center, and then building a coalition around that center.

“It may sound Pollyannaish, but that’s the nature of the game.”

Brown, along with Jim Myron, former conservation director for Oregon Trout, and David E. Van’t Hof, an environment and land use attorney with the Portland law firm Stoel Rives, will help the governor shape natural resource policies for the months and years ahead.

The three reflect the governor’s desire for balance and diversity of opinion on his staff, according to Kulongoski spokesman Scott Ballo.

In particular, Brown and Myron are perceived as coming from opposite sides of the fence. Environmental groups as well as natural resource industry interests indicated simultaneous contentment and alarm at the announcement of the team last month.

Brown, with 36 years in the Oregon Department of Forestry, is seen as a friend of industrial timber interests — and is viewed with suspicion by some conservation groups.

The selection of Myron — in the past a critic of fish hatcheries and an advocate for strict watershed protection regulation — similarly raised eyebrows among farmers, ranchers and loggers.

That’s all part of the plan, said Ballo.

The presence of both will ensure that Kulongoski is provided “good, open debate” on policy issues, which will enable the governor to “make the best decision for the people of Oregon and go with it,” said Ballo.

Myron and Brown tend to downplay their differences and predict that they’ll actually work quite well together.

“We’ve both been around in this process for a while and we know how things get done — and we’re both working for the governor now, so that’s who we’re taking our orders from,” said Myron, who added that he believes that as state forester Brown was “one of the better managers in state government.”

Myron reiterated Kulongoski’s views over the past few months that “some potential streamlining” of regulatory processes may be needed to “make it easier for people to do business in this state while at the same time protecting the resources.”

“(Environmental groups) are going to feel the way they feel — and a lot of those people are my friends — but I tell everyone I talk to that they should give us a little time, give us the benefit of the doubt, and critique our performance,” he said. “If we do things people don’t like, then they should tell us about it and hold us accountable. But don’t, just because of who either one of us might be, come right out of the box saying that we’re never going to be able to do the job. That’s unfair.”

Brown said he has “a lot of respect for (Myron),” and that regardless of their backgrounds, at this point, and given their current responsibilities, “we know who the boss is.”

In terms of dividing up responsibilities for particular issues, Myron will act as the governor’s liaison with land-based natural resource management agencies like the Department of Forestry, Department of Agriculture, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, in addition to taking on broader issues related to fish and wildlife.

Van’t Hof, a water rights and energy specialist, and a former clerk for Kulongoski when he served on the Oregon Supreme Court, will keep tabs on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Public Utility Commission, the Northwest Power Planning Council and the Land Conservation and Development Commission.

In addition to overseeing the governor’s natural resource policy staff and coordinating policy initiatives, Brown said he will personally deal with specific issues pertaining to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Marine Board, the Division of State Lands and act as an assistant to the State Land Board, a panel that includes the governor, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and State Treasurer Randall Edwards.

Together, the natural resources policy team will make recommendations to Kulongoski on various appointments he’ll make to natural resource boards and commissions within the state government, Brown said.

Though each of the key policy advisors has specific areas of expertise, duties and assignment, the interconnected nature of the issues with which they’ll be dealing will require “a lot of crossover,” said Brown.

The three policy advisors will meet regularly together once or twice a week to discuss issues as they arise, said Brown.


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