For Immediate Release, February 23, 2016
Contact: Amaroq Weiss, (707) 779-9613, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oregon Senate Committee Moves Controversial Wolf-delisting Bill Forward
Political Move to Block Court Review Sets Dangerous Precedent
PORTLAND, Ore.— Ignoring public and expert testimony, the Oregon Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, in a split 3-2 decision, voted today to remove the gray wolf from the state’s list of endangered species. House Bill 4040, which has already passed in the House, next moves to the Senate floor for a full vote. The bill was introduced by Republican proponents of delisting on behalf of the livestock and sports hunting industries, which are seeking to block judicial review of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s controversial, illegal delisting decision last November.
|Photo of OR-25 courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This photo is available for media use.
“Having legislators make decisions about whether an endangered species is recovered is like allowing scientists to pass laws — it simply defies reason,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. “When a state commission makes a decision that clearly appears to violate the law, the place to make that determination is in the court, not in the legislature.”
In November 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to strip gray wolves of state endangered species act protections. The commissioners who voted to delist based their decision on an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife report that numerous scientists have characterized as severely flawed and illogical. Of the two commissioners who voted against delisting, one indicated that wolves had not met criteria for having recovered in a significant portion of the species’ range, while the other stated there had not been time to evaluate all the science that had been sent to them. In December the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a legal challenge to the commission’s decision. Shortly after the 2016 session of the Oregon legislature convened earlier this month, bills were introduced by Senate and House Republicans to ratify the commission’s decision, in order to block judicial review of the delisting decision.
If passed on the Senate floor and reconciled with a House-passed version of the same bill, H.B. 4040 would next go to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown. At the commission delisting hearing in November, the commission did not ask to have its vote ratified by the legislature, but did ask that a bill be introduced to substantially raise poaching fines for wolves. That bill, H.B. 4046, was introduced but has stalled in hearings.
“Twenty-five leading scientists wrote to the commission noting significant disagreement with delisting, and 96 percent of 10,000 public comments opposed the delisting,” said Weiss. “Oregon voters have every right to be disgusted by this special interest-driven legislation.”
Wolves were once widely distributed throughout Oregon but were eradicated from the state by a government-sponsored effort and a bounty system on behalf of livestock operators. In 1999 a wolf from Idaho made her way into the state, soon followed by several other wolves, most of which were illegally shot and killed. The commission adopted a state wolf conservation and management plan in 2005 and in 2008 the state’s first breeding pair was confirmed. At the time of the commission’s vote to delist, the department estimated the wolf population at around just 80 animals. Those animals inhabit only 12 percent of identified suitable wolf habitat in Oregon, with nearly the entire wolf population located in the northeastern corner of the state.
On Monday U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sent a letter to Democrats in the Oregon Senate and to Gov. Kate Brown blasting the pending legislation, emphasizing the critical role judicial review plays in protecting endangered species under the law.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.