New law comes into focus

By Pat Caldwell, for WesCom News Service March 31, 2014 11:55 am

Conservation agreement vital preservation tool for landowners

BAKER CITY — It is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or CCAA, and it may just be one of the most significant preservation tools for landowners and cattlemen that you’ve never heard of.

The agreements are the focal point of a bill passed by Oregon lawmakers — and subsequently signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber — during the Legislature’s short session that ended March 7. The legislation, spearheaded by Oregon State Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) produces exemptions to the public records law regarding written pacts — CCAAs — connected to conservation of sage grouse. Bentz represents Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties along with a portion of Lake County

In a CCAA, a private property owner agrees to conduct certain conservation efforts under a special permit. Under the provisions of the agreement, a property owner is guaranteed that if he or she participates in specific conservation activities — also known as a site specific plan — for a species,  they will not be forced to implement extra measures beyond what is outlined in the CCAA. And, if a specific species included in the CCAA is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the landowner will not be forced to make more land, water or resource modifications.

Bentz’s legislation, House Bill 4093, enlarged existing confidentiality protections for Oregon landowners who decide to participate in the CCAAs for sage grouse. 

“This (legislation) should be viewed as a very positive development,” Bentz said. “The site specific plan under the CCAA is what we are trying to protect. The CCAA is the umbrella device.”

Looming over the entire issue is the draft management plan under construction by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management designed to protect the sage grouse. The bird, which occupies rangeland in 11 Western states, including a portion of Eastern Oregon and Baker County, is warranted for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.