SALEM &

Democrats, emboldened by their majorities in the state Legislature, have advanced one of the most ambitious environmental agendas in decades, local advocates say.

"Things are rolling to the end of the session," state Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland said. "We have accomplished our agenda."

Among environmentalists' victories are new laws that will reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, expand the state's landmark bottle bill, provide incentives to produce biofuels and create an industry-funded computer recycling program.

"These are all fantastic pieces of legislation," said Buckley, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

One of the session's most noteworthy environmental bills, proposed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, is one that requires energy producers to generate more electricity using renewable resources.

Specifically, the state's major utilities must gradually get at least a quarter of their electricity from such eco-friendly sources as wind, ocean wave, biomass, solar, geothermal and new hydroelectricity by 2025.

"This is possibly the biggest piece of environmental legislation in Oregon since the bottle bill," said Troy Gagliano, senior policy associate at the Portland-based Renewable Northwest Project, in an earlier interview.

He said the winds that whip through the Columbia River Gorge, the sunshine that beats down on most of the Beaver State, the waves that pound the coastline and the wood waste, known as biomass, that covers much of the Southern Oregon forest floor provides an abundance of natural resources to produce environment-friendly energy.

State Sen. Brad Avakian, a Portland-area Democrat, was the bill's leading advocate in the Senate, where the measure passed 20-10. He told his colleagues, "It's an ambitious standard, but Oregon is an ambitious state."

Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, the Portland Democrat who championed the bill in the House, said the legislation, which passed there 41-18 with strong bipartisan support, will help the state take control of its energy future while using "homegrown renewable resources" to do so.

Mat Marr, the Jackson County organizer for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, said what a difference a Democratic majority makes.

He said few green bills made it to the House floor when Democrats were in the minority, but once they became the majority, Republicans seemed to follow.

Marr said, "What is amazing is that when these bills came to the floor it turns out that everyone is an environmentalist in their heart."

He is quick to credit the kind of relationships that Buckley, Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, state Sens. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, and Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, have forged across party lines.

"All of us in Southern Oregon can be proud of our delegation," Marr said from his Ashland office. "There is always more to do, but this session we have made genuine progress."

Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, was less complimentary.

Indeed, conservation measures fared well this session, she said, but wildlife protection "took a step backwards."

"We made some positive steps this session in terms of renewable energy and sustainability," Tidwell said. "But it would be disingenuous to say it's been a good year in the state Legislature for the environment because wildlife is a part of the environment."

She said the biggest blow to wildlife came in the form of legislation that Bates carried on the Senate floor, expected to be signed by the governor.

The proposal will allow the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to deputize volunteer houndsmen using radio-collared dogs to chase troublesome cougars up trees so the elusive cats can be killed.

Dominick Della Sala, director of the Ashland office of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, said the need to kill more cougars is "scientifically unjustified."

The bill, part of implementing a statewide wildlife management plan, is aimed at preventing attacks on humans and livestock while leaving intact the statewide ban on outdoor enthusiasts using dogs to hunt black bears and the big cats.

"This bill will kill more cougars than were ever killed under a Republican-led Legislature," said Tidwell, adding that in the West there is "still some deeply held prejudices" against big wildlife, including cougars.

Shayne Maxwell, executive director of the Rogue River Greenway, acknowledged the Legislature's banner year, and said she is looking forward to more victories next session.

One of those she hopes will be changes to how the Oregon Department of Transportation funds alternative transportation routes.

Currently, she said, when the state provides funding for such things as a bike lane, ODOT requires it be attached to the roadway.

"That is not the best place to be," said Maxwell, adding that a fog line painted on the road is not much protection for bike riders and pedestrians against such things as logging trucks and autos whizzing by.

"Why not a 15-foot detached trail if the real estate is there?" she asked. "Unfortunately, change is not looked on fondly."

covers the state Legislature for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.