The Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund

Sea otters

Written by Ally Fisher, Communications and Climate Change Intern

What is the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund?

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has been struggling. Despite its mission written in law to prioritize native wildlife, ODFW has primarily catered to “consumptive interests” -- hunting and fishing. But the decline of those activities and subsequent loss of license sale revenue, have required the Oregon legislature to step in. Making matters worse, there hasn’t been enough momentum, either from the Commission and state legislature that oversee it, or the agency leadership, to restructure to support a broader constituency. As the public has become more interested in wildlife for wildlife’s sake, the agency’s leadership has doubled down on policies and priorities that are narrowly targeted.

So, with ODFW both unable and, in some cases, unwilling to fulfill its actual mission, the Oregon legislature created the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund (OCRF) in 2019 as a way to slowly start investing in “nongame” species and habitat conservation.

The objective of the OCRF (and accompanying Advisory Committee) is to fund conservation projects that would protect, maintain, and enhance habitat and wildlife in Oregon for their inherent value to ecosystems and also promote responsible recreation and enjoyment of nature in a way that adds value to all communities without harming our wild habitats.

We’ll be honest, we were a bit skeptical about how much good work the OCRF was going to be able to do when the original ask of millions of dollars was whittled down to $1 million (with a required $1 million private match) by the legislature. It wasn’t hard to guess that certain legislators were setting this up to fail. Throw in strict time limitations on raising and spending the money and an unexpected pandemic, it’s no wonder we were unsure what good work could be done.
 
To our (delightful) surprise, the Advisory Committee (the committee that provides input on which projects should be funded) has been able to support some really amazing on-the-ground conservation projects and recreation-for-all initiatives. The result has been a major boost to grassroots organized, community-based conservation and stewardship projects. We applaud the Advisory Committee for supporting substantive wildlife conservation projects and elevating recreation initiatives that strive to make Oregon outdoor experiences more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

 

Some of those include (not an exhaustive list):

  • Feasibility Study: Restoring Sea Otters to the Oregon Coast
    Sea otters are keystone species that aid in protecting kelp forests from herbivores like urchins. They are also of great cultural value to PNW indigenous peoples, including the Coquille Indian Tribe, and Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians who are some of the partners on the study. Unfortunately, there are no resident sea otter populations in Oregon. This study is the first step toward a possible reintroduction effort along the coast. And a special thanks to Oregon Wild members and supporters, as you helped raise an additional $1,500 for this project! 

  • Wallowa Wolverine and Forest Carnivore Project
    Wolverines, a native carnivore to Oregon and one of the most elusive creatures have had their challenges getting a foothold in the state. With only a few sightings in recent history, this project hopes to more closely monitor wolverines (and other carnivores) in the Wallowa Mountains in the hopes of identifying their conservation needs.  Additionally, pilot monitoring of marten will be conducted, along with the rare Rocky Mountain red fox.

  • Crooked River National Grasslands Sustainable Trails Project
    The Crooked River National Grassland is home to an abundance of wildlife. This trails project seeks to develop sustainable recreational opportunities in the region while adding economic value to small rural towns near the trails. The collaborative group leading the project, Ochoco Trails, is approaching their work with an eye towards maintaining or improving wildlife habitat. 

  • Beaver Survey and Restoration: Central Coast Estuaries
    The Wetlands Conservancy will survey coastal estuary beaver habitats and discuss restoration for this project with local partners. This will help promote healthy coastal ecosystems and support people like the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Newport/Walport residents, and visitors that rely on the landscape. Waterways of focus include the Siletz and Salmon Rivers, and Yaquina Bay.

  • People of Color Outdoor and iUrban Teen Connect in Nature
    People of Color Outdoors (POCO) has connected BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) with nature for 3 years and has led over 125 opportunities since 2017 that focus on making the outdoors feel safe and accessible. This project partners with iUrban Teen to host an overnight (three-day, two-night) coastal camping experience for first-time, underrepresented campers. 

  • BIPOC Conservation Strategy
    This Wild Diversity project promotes conservation learning opportunities, self-empowerment, and autonomy for communities of color. BIPOC leadership is supported and highlighted. Additionally, Wild X and Youth Ecology students are taught culturally appropriate conservation and people of color are connected with outdoor spaces.

You can learn more about other funded projects here

Threats to the OCRF

Legislators are currently debating whether or not to reinstate funding for the OCRF! Oregon’s fish, wildlife, and habitat need our support now more than ever before. All of Oregon’s native wildlife face increasing threats from climate change, loss of natural habitat, and increasing human development. While we work to reform and modernize ODFW, this fund creates an important bridge program to keep doing good work now! Help us advocate for the OCRF and persuade our elected officials to continue to support conservation and recreation that bolsters stewardship. 

CALL TO ACTION! Show that you want to preserve the OCRF!

What you can do:

  1. Find your state legislators using this legislator lookup link

  2. Call your state legislators and ask them to do the following: 
    Support the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund and
    Remove the sunset clause on OCRF, making it a permanent fund

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Photo Credits
Crooked River: Erik Dresser
Wolverine: Josh More