The Oregon Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups challenging the state’s decision to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife removed wolves from the state endangered species list in November 2015. Lawmakers passed House Bill 4040 during the 2016 legislative session, which ratified the agency’s findings.
Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity sued to reverse the delisting, arguing it was premature and not based on sound science. Though the case was initially dismissed, it was later reinstated by the appeals court.
On Nov. 27, judges again tossed out the complaint, ruling that HB 4040 rendered the environmentalists’ petition moot.
“In this case, the legislature has ratified the delisting, thereby providing the delisting with the statutory effect of removing it from a rule challenge,” the court wrote in its dismissal. “Consequently, a decision on our part regarding the petitioners’ challenge would have no practical effect, and the petition is therefore moot.”
Wolves are still federally protected as an endangered species west of highways 395, 78 and 95 in Oregon.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Oregon Farm Bureau intervened in the lawsuit to support delisting the wolves. Ranchers have long argued they need to be able to kill wolves that make a habit of preying on livestock, despite using non-lethal deterrents such as electric fences and range riders.
Killing wolves is allowed under certain strict requirements in ODFW’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which was last updated earlier this year.
Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the court’s ruling was a long time coming.
“We were glad to see that the appeal was dismissed,” Rosa said. “Justice was had.”
In a statement, the Oregon Farm Bureau said the ruling “is a huge win for ranch families and the livestock industry, which have long advocated for responsible wolf management in Oregon.”
Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands based in Eugene, said the appeals court did not evaluate whether delisting wolves was scientifically defensible, but simply based its decision on HB 4040, which was signed by Gov. Kate Brown.
“That was the main grounds of the case,” Cady said. “We’re really disappointed that Oregon’s Democratic supermajority is what threw Oregon’s wolves under the bus.”
The number of wolves in Oregon has grown every year since population surveys began in 2009. As of the most recent count in 2018, Oregon had at least 137 wolves statewide — a 10% increase over the previous year.