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Bill could derail environmentalists' wolf delisting legal challenge

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COURTESY PHOTO: MELINDA HOLLAND/OREGON ZOO - Cheyenne (gray) and Yazhi (black and brown markings) interact and wrestle with each other while on exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. A bill in the Legislature could stop an environmentalists' lawsuit blasting delisting of wolves in the wild.SALEM — The fate of an environmentalist lawsuit over the removal of wolves from Oregon’s list of endangered species will soon be decided by the Oregon Senate.

Under House Bill 4040, the Legislature would ratify last year’s decision by state wildlife officials to delist wolves, effectively neutralizing a legal challenge filed by several environmental groups in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The Senate will soon vote on HB 4040 having passed a key legislative committee on Feb. 23 and earlier having passed the House. Proponents of the bill, including the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, argue that livestock producers could be excluded from any potential legal settlement between the environmental plaintiffs and Oregon’s wildlife regulators, thereby circumventing the public process in setting wolf management policy.

Environmentalists and animal rights advocates fear the delisting will lead to hunting and argue that HB 4040 will preclude judicial review of whether the delisting decision was based on sound science, which the Legislature should not attempt to answer.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, said it’s not unprecedented for Oregon lawmakers to weigh in on thorny policy issues instead of having them hashed out during prolonged litigation.

“As public policy makers, we do intervene when we believe it’s healthier to resolve a situation rather than let it happen in a courtroom,” he said.

Edwards joined two Republican colleagues on the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in voting in favor of the bill, which passed the committee 3-2 and is now headed for a vote on the Senate floor.

The two other Democrats on the committee — Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland — said they were uncomfortable with lawmakers trying to influence the legal process from the outset.

Prozanski said he would have preferred a bill that would require the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Oregon Farm Bureau to be included in any settlement negotiations, rather than render the lawsuit moot.

“I’m concerned about us being asked to intervene at this stage in a judicial proceeding,” he said.

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