Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Republican nominee Bud Pierce are scheduled to debate five times in September and October. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Republican nominee Bud Pierce are scheduled to debate five times in September and October. 

Courtesy of the campaigns

Bend hosted the first Oregon gubernatorial debate of the election season Saturday between Republican and oncologist Bud Pierce and Democrat and current Gov. Kate Brown.
 
The debate was focused on rural Oregon and touched on issues from tribal sovereignty, marijuana cultivation and even cougar hunting with dogs. The two candidates took particularly different stances on federal land management.

Pierce said he supports turning most federal lands over to local control, a position which is also reflected in this year’s Republican Party platform and has become an increasingly prominent flashpoint in political discussions about federal public lands.

He said he could see some lands remaining as national parks, or for national defense, but the rest might gradually be transferred. 

“Maybe move toward a transfer of 5 percent a year of federal lands to the states, to the counties, over a 20-year period of time,” Pierce said.”I don’t know why anyone in Oregon wouldn’t trust that we can’t manage it better,” Pierce said.

“Most of the country east of the Rockies is owned by the citizens. I think we should transition in that way because it works better there,” said Pierce, in an interview with OPB following the debate. 

When asked whether public lands in the Deschutes National Forest, for example, belong as much to someone in New Hampshire as to Deschutes County residents, Pierce said, “50 percent of our land is owned by the federal government, we want 50 percent of New Hampshire’s land. And that’d be fair.” Brown roundly rejected the idea of federal lands transfer. “I think it’s unrealistic to say that we’re going to return the 60 percent of federal lands in Oregon back to the state and local control,” Brown said.

“What’s happening essentially is that we’re partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, they’re providing resources,” Brown said in an interview with OPB. “So it’s a win for the economy, and a win for the environment.”

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Brown also said she’d like to see more front-end work to prevent costly wildfires, which often eat up the majority of agency’s budgets. “If we could change that dynamic so that they had more resources to do the front end work—the treatment, the resiliency and the harvesting—that will prevent forest fires in the future,” Brown said.

Brown also pointed to collaborative efforts to prevent the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse on the Endangered Species List and to a collaborative timber harvest and forest restoration efforts in Grant County as examples of successful local/federal partnerships.

Pierce said he has not talked specifically to any county leaders who have told him that they would want to take on management of federal land in their backyard, but he thinks it’s important for Oregonians to know where he stands philosophically.   

 Candidates also debated the idea of an Owyhee National Monument designation in southeast Oregon (an idea championed by conservation groups). Brown did not say directly whether she would support or oppose a designation.

“I think there needs to be a collaborative process, and parties need to come to the table,” Brown said. “In terms of Oregon’s rural communities we’ve done the best work when we’ve down it collaboratively.” 

Pierce rejected the idea of the monument, saying it would be another layer of bureaucracy.

“The people who live out in the lands have overwhelmingly said no,” he said. “Do you trust the people who live on the lands and who have managed the lands for many years, or do you trust people from the outside, or who have a political agenda?”

The debate was the first of five scheduled debates between the gubernatorial candidates. It was sponsored by the Oregon Territory chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.