Oregon’s gray wolves may get a reprieve, thanks to the state appellate court.
In the latest chapter of a saga that began last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that three environmental organizations can proceed with their legal challenge to the state’s decision to strip the wolf of its endangered-species protection.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission removed the gray wolf from Oregon’s endangered species list in late 2015, threatening the recovery of a species that had been hunted to extinction here in the early 1900s.
Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild promptly sued to stop the delisting, saying it was premature. There are fewer than 120 gray wolves in the state, according to environmentalists, a tiny percentage of the 1,440 wolves that researchers have determined the state could support. And the species already has lost federal protection in Eastern Oregon.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, state legislators, led by by Rep. Greg Barreto, R-La Grande, attempted an end run. They passed a bill — crafted with the help of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association — that would make the commission’s decision to delist the wolf a law, effectively blocking judicial review.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law in March.
But the appellate court has now ruled that the environmental groups can proceed with their legal challenge to the state’s decision to strip protections from the wolves. Chief Judge Erika Hadlock wrote that the issues presented by the lawsuit “are complex matters of public importance” that deserve further consideration by the court.
The appellate court’s decision was a welcome one. Wolves occupy an important place in the ecosystem, helping to keep the coyote population in check, among other things. And their numbers are not yet large enough to guarantee a stable population and survival of the species in Oregon.
There is a deep dislike of wolves among many cattlemen, who view them as a major threat to livestock.
In reality, as previously pointed out in this space, wolves account for very few livestock deaths, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
Illnesses, including respiratory and digestive ailments, are by far the largest causes of cattle losses in Oregon, according to the USDA, which has suggested that cattlemen focus on disease prevention, nutrition and providing timely assistance to cows during calving season if they want to reduce livestock losses. Of the 3 percent of cattle that are lost to predators, according to the USDA, the main culprit is coyotes — whose natural enemies are wolves.
In other parts of the country where wolf populations have increased under government protection, such as the northern Rocky Mountains, there has been no corresponding increase in cattle deaths, according to the International Wolf Center, which cited studies showing that wolves prefer natural prey such as deer and elk.
Gray wolves deserve their day in court. State legislators’ attempt to circumvent a legal challenge to the delisting left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. As noted by Judge Hadlock, this is a complex issue and one of public importance. It should not be determined by hastily passed legislation that was stamped “emergency,” eliminating the chance for a public vote.