House Bill 4040, which already passed the House, is expected to face a razor-thin vote to determine whether it moves to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown.
The bill doesn’t change anything about the way wolves are managed in Oregon, but rather affirms the decision by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to delist wolves last November.
The bill is widely seen as a method for derailing a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that challenges the scientific merits of the commission’s decision.
“Our understanding is that while technically the lawsuit could go forward, any judge would look at this and determine the lawsuit was moot,” said Arran Robertson, communications director for Oregon Wild, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit.
“It’s a really concerning precedent to set, because it allows politicians to come in an preempt judicial review of decisions made by the executive branch. What faith can people have in government if we’re no longer allowed to challenge decisions like these?”
The bill was introduced by Rep. Greg Barreto of Cove and is supported by the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
The bill "will solidify the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s scientific findings behind the delisting decision,” said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Cattlemen’s Association in a press release. “HB 4040 will help the Oregon Wolf Plan to continue to move forward into future phases as promised.”
The decision by ODFW to delist wolves — like the legislation — has little impact on the actual management of wolves.
The animals are still listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of the state, where it remains illegal to kill a wolf.
In northeast Oregon, home to the vast majority of wolves, the Oregon Wolf Plan emphasizes non-lethal deterrence measures to resolve wolf and livestock conflict. Ranchers can only shoot a wolf caught in the act of wounding, biting, killing or chasing livestock.
In the long term, delisting could lead to a "controlled take," or killing, of wolves in cases of chronic livestock depredation or if wolves cause a notable decline in game animals. That could happen as early as January 2017 in northeast Oregon.
However, there are no plans for a general sport hunting season on wolves in Oregon.