Environmental Groups Seek Halt of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Authority to Use Lethal Force on Wolves in Northeastern Oregon
On October 5, 2011, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Oregon Wild filed suit in the Oregon Court of Appeals. They are seeking judicial review of an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (“ODFW”) rule that authorizes ODFW to kill wolves that chronically depredate on livestock. The groups were granted a “stay” of the rule pending review. Under the stay, the ODFW may not remove wolves until the Court completes its review of the rule challenge.
On October 26, 2011, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association sought intervention in the case. A number of eastern Oregon counties filed an amicus brief.
The rule challenge came after ODFW announced plans to kill two wolves from the Imnaha pack. The wolves have been responsible for a number of livestock deaths and injuries in Wallowa County. In Oregon, wolves East of Highway 395 have not required the protections of the federal Endangered Species Act since May 2011, but all wolves in Oregon remain protected under Oregon’s Endangered Species Act.
The rule at issue in this case authorizes the ODFW to use lethal force to remove wolves if the ODFW either 1) confirms two wolf depredations on livestock in the area or 2) confirms one depredation followed by three attempted depredations (i.e. testing or stalking) in the area. A lethal removal may only occur after non-lethal means are used to attempt to deter wolf-livestock conflicts.
The rule is part of Oregon’s 2005 Wolf Management Plan, which was designed with input from diverse interests, including environmental groups, livestock owners, and other Oregonians. The goal of the Wolf Plan is to “ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians.”
The groups challenging this rule argue that it violates the Oregon Endangered Species Act’s prohibition on “taking” an endangered species, and is outside the scope of Oregon’s animal damages statute. Oregon’s animal damages statute provides that nothing in Oregon’s wildlife laws is intended to prevent a person from taking wildlife that is causing damage to private property.
The ODFW, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and the Counties have taken the position that the rule is a lawful exercise of ODFW’s authority, and does not run afoul of Oregon’s Endangered Species Act.