An Interagency Partnership to Reboot Two Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Tax Incentive Conservation Programs

Guest post by Derek Palmore, ODFW Wildlife Habitat Conservation Management Program Intern, July-November 2019

West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) partnered in 2019 with other Lower Willamette Valley conservation districts in an intergovernmental agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) to assess the current status and future viability of two private landowner tax incentive programs administered and regulated by the ODFW.

The first program, Riparian Lands Tax Incentive Program (RLTIP), created in 1981 (ORS 308A.350-.383), offers an incentive for improving or maintaining qualifying riparian lands. The Wildlife Habitat Conservation Management Program (WHCMP) passed legislation in 1997 (ORS 308A.400-.743) and is aimed at rewarding landowners for stewardship of native wildlife and habitat on their own land. Both programs provide soil and water conservation districts with an additional set of tools to encourage landowners to proactively manage their land for conservation benefit.

The challenge was ODFW had lost the capacity to implement and regulate the programs due to a loss in staff funding, which had left the current status of both programs uncertain. Records for how many enrollees were in either program or if the conservation plans were being adhered to had become outdated. This meant that ODFW was unable to accept new enrollees in the WHCMP program and many conservation opportunities were being lost. The first step in getting these programs back online was to reconcile the paper trail.

My internship began in July of 2019 when I was tasked with assisting ODFW North Willamette Watershed District with discovering and rectifying their WHCMP plans; another intern was tasked with the RLTIP plans. Headquartered in the ODFW Clackamas Regional office, I compared hard-copy files to an internal database looking for errors and duplicates, updating the physical files with newer information from the database, and entering new information into the database from physical documents. I then worked with tax assessors from seven counties to audit last known owners, discover current enrollment status, and correct discrepancies between the WHCMP plans and the respective county tax assessor records.

Not all of my time, however, was spent digging through files and data. I had the opportunity to participate in outdoor conservation work like helping with biological sampling, bird count surveys, bear trapping, rescuing deer from Willamette Falls, and scouting potential beaver relocation habitat in a remnant old-growth stand. I also had the unique opportunity to watch the different federal, state, regional, municipal, and non-profit agencies work together on these programs.

By October, enrolled plans in both tax incentive programs had been mostly accounted for, dusted off, and placed back in orderly fashion for review.

The interagency group of Lower Willamette Valley SWCDs and ODFW have now finished the discovery phase of their agreement and are in discussions for the next phase, including what options there are for a permanent position to manage the programs.

Editor’s Note: Both interns – The ODFW Wildlife Management Conservation and Management Program Intern (Derek Palmore) and the Riparian Lands Tax Incentive Program Intern (Jake Lovell) – were temporary employees of the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District.

Photo credit: Western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) by Jerry Kirkhart; tinyurl.com/western-pond-turtle