on March 15, 2016
Supporters of House Bill 4040 originally touted the measure as little more than a symbolic thumbs up to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission's November decision to delist gray wolves. But as the legislative session wore on, it became clear the bill was aimed at blocking a lawsuit that challenged the delisting.
The 4-2 vote to declare the animals recovered in Oregon, seven years after a lone wolf wandered over from Idaho to reclaim territory wolves hadn't roamed for seven decades, was contentious. Wolf advocates and enemies packed the commission's meeting room to plead the case for maintaining or stripping protections.
While ranchers and hunters stumped in favor of delisting, wolf advocates warned commissioners they were likely to sue if wolves lost their endangered status. They argued the state had ignored Oregon law by failing to conduct a full peer review of a staff recommendation to strip wolves of Endangered Species Act protections.
A month after the commission vote, three groups made good on that warning. Their lawsuit alleges state officials relied on flawed science to declare Oregon's then-81 known wolves no longer endangered.
In a statement announcing Monday's bill signing, Brown urged parties in the wolf debate to use an upcoming review of the state's wolf management plan as an opportunity to "look to the future instead of the past."
Noting that she also signed a bill increasing penalties for poaching wolves and other wildlife, Brown said with or without protections, wolves in Oregon are likely to continue to growing more numerous and expanding their territory.
"I support wolves," Brown said. "I also recognize challenges arise in rural landscapes where wolves exist. Minimizing divisions between well-meaning Oregonians and providing the social space for wolves demands compromise and collaboration."
Amaroq Weiss, wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the plaintiffs have no plans to drop the lawsuit, although the new law makes creates a "severe hindrance" to convincing a judge to take up the case.
"We remain convinced the commission acted outside the law," Weiss said.
Wolf adversaries – ranchers who say wolves threaten their business and hunters who fear wolves will suppress deer and elk populations – lauded the bill as a positive step to force all parties involved Oregon's wolf debate to honor hard-fought compromises instead of resorting to an expensive court process.
"It allows us to go forward with wolf management on the ground and hopefully not get bogged down in litigation," Oregon Cattlemen's Association president John O'Keeffe said in a statement Tuesday.
Conservation group Oregon Wild bashed Brown for signing the bill, calling it a violation of her pledge to maintain government transparency. Shielding the commission's decision from a legal review "directly undermines" that pledge, the group said, and erodes Oregon's environmentalist reputation.
Alluding to the Portland air pollution scare, the group called the bill "the latest in a series of scandals that threaten to expose the extent of Oregon's greenwashing," the statement read. "When it comes to our air, water, forests, and wildlife, Oregon is falling ever further behind."