For Government Relations & Solutions attorney Maureen McGee, the close of the busy 2022 Oregon legislative session brought more than one reason to celebrate. Through her work as neutral legislative drafting counsel, Maureen made key contributions to a three-bill package enacting concepts of the Private Forest Accord (PFA) into Oregon law, a precedent-setting collaboration between the timber industry and environmental groups.
Decades of highly public friction between these two groups came to a head in 2019, when competing ballot initiatives were proposed by both sides to modify the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA), the statutes that govern Oregon’s private forests and forest practices. To avoid a costly and contentious battle, Gov. Kate Brown brokered a deal in which both ballot initiatives were dropped in favor of mediation. In June of 2020, the Oregon Legislature held a special session and passed Senate Bill 1602, which created new requirements for aerial pesticide spraying by timber companies and required mediated talks between timber and environmental groups to otherwise address how the state’s private forests should be managed.
The results of the following mediation process, released on October 30, 2021, included a framework for changes to the OFPA that would apply to all 10 million acres of private timber land in Oregon. To quickly effectuate these changes, the parties needed to pass one or more bills during the 2022 short session. At this critical stage, Maureen was selected by both parties to contract with Peter Koehler Arbitration & Mediation as a private, neutral legislative drafting consultant.
With a well-established reputation for results, Maureen was a natural choice for this project. She served in Oregon’s Legislative Counsel for nine years with a strong focus on natural resources legislation. She is known for her ability to get entrenched stakeholders on the same page in order to develop and draft detailed legislative concepts conforming with Oregon’s statutory form and style.
To draft the complex forestry legislation under significant time pressure, Maureen worked with a subset of the PFA negotiation group and Oregon Legislative Counsel. She helped the parties think though possible terms and outcomes of the PFA agreements and worked collaboratively with Legislative Counsel to translate their concepts into the legislative text that would become Senate Bill 1501. Maureen helped to expedite work sessions and ensure the draft was completed to the highest standard possible, and served as the lead communicator with Legislative Counsel.
Maureen also provided legal consulting on portions of the text that would become Senate Bill 1502, and provided legal consulting and review on the Private Forest Accord Report, which is referenced in the new laws, and which will guide the development of rules by the Oregon Forestry Department.
Finding common ground between Oregon’s timber industry and environmental groups had been a long-thwarted goal for private and public sector stakeholders. That parties on both sides of the issue and aisle found a creative, productive path forward to modernize the OFPA in a way that meets the goals of both parties is notable.
“The success of this collaborative process between two historically antagonistic groups is an excellent example of how to bridge differences in these sharply divided times,” shared Maureen. “Different viewpoints are valuable, but common ground is vital. I hope that more conflicted parties take collaborative approaches, including mediation, into consideration as an effective lawmaking strategy to keep Oregon moving forward.”