SALEM, Ore. -- Environmental groups are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to convince her to veto a bill they call anti-wolf, anti-science and anathema to the concept of judicial review.
House Bill 4040, which cleared the Legislature last Wednesday, affirms the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision to remove wolves from the state endangered species list.
The passage all but dooms a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups in December to challenge the delisting on its scientific merits.
Environmental groups said they believe the bill was only advanced to pacify rural Republicans frustrated by the passage of liberal bills such as the minimum wage increase and the clean energy bill.
“It’s totally bizarre that with a Democratic governor, and a Democratic supermajority, that this bill even exists,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands. “Our understanding is that this bill was given to Republicans in exchange for negotiating on other bills and finishing out the legislative session.”
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, put it more bluntly.
“The clean energy bill passed on the backs of wolves,” she said. “I think the vast majority of Oregonians understand that there is something rotten in Denmark here.”
Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli, of John Day; Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene; Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove; and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association strongly disagreed with that assessment.
“To say this bill is nothing more than throwing Republicans a bone is nowhere close to factual,” Ferrioli said. “This bill was a referendum on the value of cooperation. Rural landowners have spent 10 years or more cooperating with reintroduction of wolves, and this bill demonstrates the value of that cooperation.”
Rocky Dallum, a political advocate for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said in a press release:
"The Legislature's support for (the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's) delisting decision reduces the risk that special interest groups can use the threat of expensive court cases to force ODFW into changing the wolf plan without involving all stakeholders."
The delisting process was initiated as part of the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
In a report, state biologists said there was little probability of wolves declining or going extinct. The first pups were born in the Beaver State in 2008, and the numbers slowly grew, hitting 14 in 2009 and 29 by 2011; the most recent count estimated 110 wolves in the state.
Environmental groups disagreed with the agency's assessment and produced a number of independent scientists that disputed the agency’s claims, ultimately leading to the lawsuit.
With passage of the bill, however, the lawsuit would be rendered moot. Worse, according to environmentalists, is that it sets a precedent by allowing lawmakers to preempt a legal challenge.
“What faith can people have in government if we’re no longer allowed to challenge decisions made by an agency in court?” said Arran Robertson, communications director for Oregon Wild. “This type of bill steps all over the separation of power in our government.”
Environmental groups plan an aggressive campaign to get Brown to veto the bill.
Brown has remained neutral on the bill so far and wouldn’t comment directly on her plans for it once it reached her desk.
If she signs the bill, it becomes effective immediately. If she were to take no action at all, the bill would still become law on April 14.
Environmental groups plan to make it a political issue for Brown, who is up for election this year.
“I think she has a sense of how unhappy her constituents on progressive issues are with this bill,” Weiss said. “And we’ve alerted our thousands of members and encouraged them to call and bring a steady drumbeat of attention to this issue.”