Wolf advocates are watching to see if Gov. Kate Brown will sign legislation they say slams the door on legal challenges to Oregon’s lifting of endangered-species protections for the gray wolf. Brown said on Thursday that her office will review the legislation before making a decision.
On a bipartisan vote of 17-11 Wednesday, the state senate ratified a decision state wildlife regulators made last November to remove the gray wolf from the Oregon Endangered Species List.
Amaroq Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity said if the governor signs, judges will be less inclined to proceed with a lawsuit filed by her group and others, including Cascadia Wildlands, challenging the original decision.
“By stepping in this way, the legislature has thumbed its nose at the state constitution. It’s thumbed its nose at science. And it’s thumbed its nose at the enormous public support for wolves,” she said.
Weiss said they are challenging the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission decision based on its scientific and legal merits.
“In this case, a decision by a commission, which is believed to be fundamentally flawed and legally inaccurate — not following the state Endangered Species Act,” Weiss said. “The place where that needs to be determined is in a court of law.”
The legislation, HB4040, does not specifically refer to any pending legal action, and proponents have argued that it is not intended to preclude environmental challenges. But others have voiced concerns that that will be the practical effect of passage.
Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands, said if the bill becomes becomes law, the decision to delist would then belong to the legislative and executive branches. Groups wanting to challenge would likely no longer have grounds to go after the agency-level decision.
In their latest report, state wildlife officials said there are at least 110 wolves living in Oregon. That’s up 36 percent from 2014.
The cattle industry supported the delisting legislation and the original decision to delist, arguing wolves are adequately protected even without a state endangered species listing. Wolves are still federally protected in all but the most eastern parts of Oregon.
Removal from the state endangered species list is just one step in Oregon’s long-term plan to reestablish the species in parts of its original range.
“[The bill] will not alter the current conservation requirements laid out in the Wolf Plan. The population will continue to grow,” said Rocky Dallum of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association in a statement.
The governor has 30 days to make a decision on the bill. If Brown doesn’t act, it will become law.
Weiss says they don’t intend to withdraw their lawsuit, instead they will wait to see what a judge decides.
Cascadia Wildlands said Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan is up for review later this year. If the governor signs HB4040, that will be the next available opportunity to change how wolves are managed in the state.