Artificial beaver dam bill advances Oregon House

Artificial beaver dam bill advances Oregon House
By Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press

April 24, 2015

A proposal to streamline permitting for fake beaver dams has progressed in the Oregon House.

A bill intended to promote artificial beaver dams in Oregon’s Malheur Lake drainage basin has crossed a key legislative hurdle despite misgivings from some environmentalists.

Artificial beaver dams are meant to slow quick-running streams, improving riparian habitats for wildlife and forage conditions for ranchers.

House Bill 3217 would ease the permitting process for landowners who want to build such structures in the region as part of a pilot program.

The Oregon Natural Desert Association urged lawmakers to pass the bill but other environmental groups — WaterWatch of Oregon and the Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited — feared the consequences of exempting artificial beaver dams from fish passage requirements.

Proponents argued that the pilot program would only apply to streams that currently dry up in summer and don’t contain any fish.

Recent amendments to HB 3217 provide more details on the fish passage exemption, providing for the possibility of retrofitting structures once habitats are restored.

Rep. Brian Clem said the changes have tempered environmental groups’ objections to the bill, which was recently approved 5-2 by the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, and David Gomberg, D-Otis, said they did not support HB 3217 due to concerns about the permanence of artificial beaver dams and their effects on fish passage.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is not against the bill but would like to weigh in on the height, size and other features of the structures, said Brett Brownscombe, the agency’s interim deputy director.

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said the bill was a good idea that should be further discussed in the Senate rather than die in committee due to worries about possible unforeseen effects.

“Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of the good,” he said.