5 Questions Every Political Candidate Should Have to Answer About the Environment

Wyethia in the Ochocos

I don’t particularly enjoy politics. I understand why they exist, and recognize the power they have, but I certainly don’t love them. 

The ongoing pandemic has done a good job of distracting me from the upcoming primary election. May 19th is technically “primary day”, but since Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, you’ll receive your ballot soon if you don’t have it already.

The races I’m watching closely this month include those for my state Senator and Representative, as well as candidates for the federal seat for Oregon’s 2nd congressional district - a district that covers nearly 2/3rds of the state and has been occupied by Greg Walden for over 20 years.

Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world, I’d encourage you not to take this election too casually. We deserve politicians that will stand up for the public lands, waters, and wildlife that make this state so special. So, in the spirit of the upcoming primary, here are 5 questions that I think every federal and state candidate should have to answer. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look into candidates’ positions on issues like these:

For federal candidates (US Senate, House of Representatives): 

  1. Public lands are lands owned by all Americans but managed for us, in trust, by federal government agencies such as the National Park Service or US Forest Service. What’s your position on transferring lands managed by the federal government to state or county ownership? 
  2. Over the last 40 years, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has helped prevent the extinction of hundreds of species of plants and animals, from bald eagles to coho salmon.  Will you oppose efforts by anti-environmental elected and appointed officials to weaken the ESA?
  3. The remaining roadless wild areas on our public lands provide some of the best habitat we have left for fish and wildlife, including elk, wild salmon and steelhead, and wolverines. These undeveloped areas are also critical sources of clean, safe, drinking water.  If elected, will you support permanent protection for roadless areas on our public lands?
  4. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been one of the most important and effective safeguards for environmental protections and public involvement. It ensures a thorough analysis of environmental impacts for any significant proposal (from logging to pipelines and beyond), and allows the public an official way to provide meaningful input - allowing citizens to hold the government accountable to its own laws. Unfortunately NEPA is under attack and Congress continues to weaken it. Will you stand up for NEPA and reverse the rollbacks on this critical protection for the environment and the rights of the public?
  5. Even though forests across Oregon have evolved with wildfires, misinformation about them abounds.  Given limited time and resources, will you prioritize common-sense measures like reducing fuels near homes & communities, or will you continue the status quo of attempting to log the problem away?  

For state candidates (like state senate, state house, secretary of state):

  1. Research from Oregon State University has shown that encouraging longer logging rotations and less clearcutting, together with old-growth protection and restoration, are among the most significant steps Oregon can take to combat climate change. Would you support legislation or new policies to give landowners incentives to let trees grow longer, and to permanently protect our remaining old-growth?
  2. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and its Commission are responsible for protecting the state’s wildlife and its habitat for all Oregonians, yet is dominated by extractive user groups like commercial fishing, livestock, logging, and more. Will you support ensuring the Commission and ODFW are driven by best available science, reflect the public’s values, and better reflect the changing demographics in the state?
  3. Current laws and practices allow extensive clearcut logging and aerial spraying of chemicals on state and private lands managed for timber in Oregon. To bring Oregon’s laws more in line with current science, additional protections for streams, drinking water, and communities are being proposed through an agreement with both timber companies and conservation groups. Will you support science-based reforms to Oregon’s logging practices to better protect our forest waters through legislation and policies set by the Oregon Department of Forestry?
  4. Having such plentiful access to public lands across the state is one of the things that makes Oregon so special. As a result, protecting public lands remains a bi-partisan issue across our state. However, the idea of privatizing public lands - or transferring them to state or county ownership - has been floated in Oregon and across the West. What will you do to stand up for public lands and waters in Oregon? 
  5. Even though forests across Oregon have evolved with wildfire, misinformation about wildfire abounds. Science has shown that the best ways to prepare for fire season include reducing fuels around homes & communities, adapting homes to be more resistant to fire, and reintroducing low-level wildfire to the landscape through controlled burns. How would you work to ensure that Oregon is better prepared for future wildfire seasons?

Every election is a chance to start anew. If you’ve never paid attention before, don’t let that stop you now! Please spend a few minutes researching your candidates, and don’t forget to mail in your ballots by May 19th!