The Oregon Court of Appeals dismissed a gray wolf delisting lawsuit Wednesday, citing a change in state law that blocked judicial review.
Conservation groups Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild sued the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife after its removal of the gray wolf from the Oregon Endangered Species List at the end of 2015.
At the time, the state’s wolves had established the minimum number of packs for officials to consider removing endangered species status and protections. But the conservation groups claimed the Department of Fish and Wildlife did not use the best available science to make the decision.
“It was like a novel, first-time creation that hadn’t been peer reviewed, and there was a lot of gaping, very obvious defects,” Cascadia Wildland Legal Director Nick Cady said.
The Court of Appeals cited legislation from 2016, House Bill 4040, as a reason to dismiss the case. The bill, which Brown signed into law despite criticism from environmentalists, blocked judicial review of the decision to remove gray wolves from the state endangered species list.
“We didn’t lose that case on the merit, we lost that case because the legislature and the governor signed a bill that basically condoned the delisting,” Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald said.
Greenwald said it was premature to delist the gray wolves at the time, and now there’s approximately 140 gray wolves and a few packs on the west side of Oregon.
Oregon Wild’s Arran Robertson said his group is disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.
“What ODFW did was illegal and did not use peer-reviewed, best available science in making its decision to remove Oregon’s wolves from the state endangered species list. The retroactive actions of Governor Brown and the Oregon legislature do not change that reality, though it does set a dangerous precedent for Salem politicians undermining science,” Robertson said.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said it in an emailed statement that it was pleased with the lawsuit’s dismissal. The department said Oregon’s wolf population continues to grow and expand in range since delisting them in 2015.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association called the lawsuit’s dismissal a huge win for ranch families and the livestock industry, which have long pushed to limit protections for wolves, which sometimes prey on cattle and sheep.
Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild have not decided if they will seek a challenge to Wednesday’s decision in the Oregon Supreme Court.