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Wolf management bill's approval squashes delisting lawsuit

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP/EO MEDIA GROUPSALEM — Oregon lawmakers have ratified the removal of wolves from the state’s list of endangered species, nullifying an environmentalist lawsuit against the delisting decision.

House Bill 4040, which holds that state wildlife regulators correctly delisted wolves, passed the Oregon Senate 17-11 on March 2 after earlier winning approval from the House.

Proponents claimed the bill was necessary to prevent implementation of the state’s wolf management plan from being hijacked by litigation. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission delisted wolves last year but several environmental groups have challenged the legality of that decision before the Oregon Court of Appeals.

By affirming that the commission followed the delisting process properly, HB 4040 voids the environmentalist argument that the decision was unlawful.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, urged the Senate to vote against the bill because it was “troubling” that the legislature would preclude judicial review of an agency action.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel qualified to be able to decide whether or not the right science was used in the agency making this decision,” Dembrow said.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, said the legal challenge against delisting would only increase the hostility between ranchers and environmentalists, hindering the process of planning for wolf recovery and management.

“Environmental lawsuits are sure to deepen the divide and mistrust,” he said. “At some point, we have to stop this cycle.”

While wolf advocates claim their lawsuit is based on scientific concerns, its true purpose is to gain leverage in upcoming revisions to the wolf management plan, Edwards said.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Edwards had a significant influence on the bill’s progress after it has passed out of the House.

Apart from scheduling a public hearing and work session that prevented HB 4040 from dying in committee, Edwards cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill that allowed it to reach the Senate floor.

Supporters of HB 4040 worried that livestock groups would be left out of a potential legal settlement between environmentalists and the state government, short-circuiting public involvement in setting wolf policy.

Edwards said the bill’s passage will moot some of those worries without disrupting how wolves are managed in Oregon.

“The bill does not endanger wolf recovery in any portion of their territory,” he said.

Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said that Oregon’s wolf population was recently found to have grown 36 percent in a year, to at least 110 wolves. At that trajectory, the state can expect a wolf population of more than 700 before 2020, he said. “Does that sound like an endangered or threatened species?”

The presence of wolves decreases the ability of livestock to gain weight and reproduce efficiently even when they don’t actually kill cows or sheep, Whitsett said.

Death losses from wolves are not only costly but horrific, with the predators eating livestock while it’s alive, he said. “These are the warm and fuzzy creatures everybody seems to be so enamored with.”

Mateusz Perkowski is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.