Thursday, May 5, 2016

Environmental group says lawmakers misrepresented bill to delist wolves

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - An environmental group claims Oregon lawmakers misrepresented provisions of a bill adopted by the Legislature that removed wolves from the endangered species list.
PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - An environmental group claims Oregon lawmakers misrepresented provisions of a bill adopted by the Legislature that removed wolves from the endangered species list.
The environmental group Cascadia Wildlands is accusing three Oregon lawmakers of knowingly misrepresenting a bill that ratified the state’s decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list.

The complaint was filed Monday with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission against Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie; Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford; and Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove.
Barreto introduced House Bill 4040 during the short legislative session earlier this year. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had previously determined wolves no longer need endangered species protections, and the Fish and Wildlife Commission followed through with delisting wolves in November 2015.

HB 4040 effectively gave the Legislature’s stamp of approval, and Gov. Kate Brown signed off on the bill in March. Cascadia Wildlands argues that in order to secure votes for the bill Witt, Esquivel and Barreto made false statements that HB 4040 would not affect a judicial review of the wolf delisting decision. 

“There’s a real concern this bill passed through the House with a fundamental misunderstanding of what it does,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Salem can be somewhat of a black box ... We perceived this as pretty egregious.”

Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity had all requested a judicial review of the delisting decision. The case was tossed by the Oregon Court of Appeals on April 22, which cited HB 4040.

Cady claims the bill’s sole purpose was to block their review, despite claims from Barreto, Witt and Esquivel. According to the complaint, Barreto said during a Feb. 4 hearing that the bill “does nothing more than shore up the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Commission,” and “Our objective in this is not to usurp the authority of the commission. It is only to shore up the decision that they have made and to make the (wolf) plan a workable plan as was written.” He also sent a written document to colleagues stating the bill had no language precluding judicial review.

However, on Feb. 16, the Legislative Counsel Committee issued a report to Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, stating that the only legal effect of HB 4040 was to “validate any real or perceived irregularities” in ODFW’s decision under state law.

“In essence, the only effect of the bill was to preclude judicial review of the commission’s delisting decision,” the complaint reads.

HB 4040 passed the House 33-23, and the Senate 17-11.

Since then, ODFW shot and killed four wolves from the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon for frequently attacking livestock in the area. There is still no legal hunting of wolves allowed in Oregon.
Barreto said he had not seen the complaint as of Monday morning, but reiterated the intent of the bill was to affirm what ODFW had already done. “All we did was say yes, we agree with Fish and Wildlife,” Barreto said. “If that precludes their lawsuit, then so be it.”

Esquivel also said that he had not received a copy of the complaint, but was not worried about it because he did nothing wrong. “We didn’t intentionally try to mislead anyone,” Esquivel said. “It’s our opinion, and our opinion’s our opinion.”

Environmentalists had asked for a review of the delisting decision because they argued it was not made with sound science, and had not been independently reviewed, as required by state law.

Cady said they are pushing to have the case reconsidered by the Court of Appeals. “To be very clear, the (wolf) recovery is going very successfully,” he said. “Our frustration is more just the pushback this species’ recovery is getting from state legislators and various lobbying interests.”

Oregon’s wolf population had grown to at least 110 animals by the end of 2015, a 36 percent increase over the previous year.

George Plaven is a reporter with the East Oregonian newspaper. Capital Bureau reporter Hillary Borrud contributed to this report.

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