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Oregon Appeals Court Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Removal of Gray Wolf from Endangered Species List

— November 29, 2019

Environmental advocacy groups say that the state adhered to no scientific conventions while making its decision.

The Oregon Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit which sought to keep the gray wolf on the state’s list of endangered species.

According to The Capital Press, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife removed wolves from its endangered species list in November 2015. A year later, lawmakers drafted and passed House Bill 4040, which approved the department’s decision.

At the time Oregon officials said that wolf populations were sufficiently large to rescind their endangered status. But the state’s decision upset some environmental activists, who believed that Oregon made its decision in hast and without adherence to scientific standards. The first suit was filed by Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It was like a novel, first-time creation that hadn’t been peer-reviewed, and there was a lot of gaping, very obvious defects,” said Cascadia Wildlands Legal Director Nick Cady.

While their complaint was quickly dismissed, it was later reinstated by an appeals court.

In their appeal, the activists argued that House Bill 4040 contained controversial provisions. Along with delisting gray wolves, it also blocked judicial review of the decision.

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

“We didn’t lose that case on merit, we lost that case because the legislature and the governor signed a bill that basically condoned the delisting,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, Noah Greenwald.

Greenwald, adds Oregon Public Broadcast, believes the delisting was premature—according to him, there are only about 140 gray wolves, along with a few packs, in the western half of the state.

However, the same court discarded the environmentalists’ suit on Wednesday due to a technicality.

“In this case, the legislature has ratified the delisting, thereby providing the delisting with the statutory effect of removing it from a rule challenge,” the judges wrote. “Consequently, a decision on our part regarding the petitioners’ challenge would have no practical effect, and the petition is therefore moot.”

Oregon Wild Communications Manager Arran Robertson told OBP that, although his group is disappointed by the appeals court’s decision, they’re not particularly surprised.

“What [the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife] 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,” Robertson said. “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.”

Oregon Wild Program Director Erik Fernandez said he’s not sure yet whether the coalition will try to push the suit past the Court of Appeals. One way or another, Fernandez says Oregon needs to reconsider its priorities for the sake of its wildlife.

“It’s disappointing when science is cast aside,” he said. “If wolves are going to survive in Oregon long term, they are going to need better leadership from Gov. Brown and the Legislature.”

The dismissal was praised by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Oregon Farm Bureau also offered support against the suit, claiming that ranchers should be able to legally kill wolves that bypass non-lethal barriers to prey on livestock.


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