In a staggering turn, Oregon’s governor told federal officials that her fish and wildlife director was “incorrect” in supporting the delisting of wolves in the western two-thirds of their state and elsewhere in the Lower 48.
“The state of Oregon and its agencies do not support the delisting of wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act across their range in the 48 contiguous states,” Gov. Kate Brown also wrote in a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That contradicts comments sent just the week before by ODFW’s Curt Melcher that said he agreed with the feds that it was time to remove the species from the ESA list, the state was ready to take on the responsibility across Oregon, and “few changes would occur” as a result.
Asked by a reporter at a news conference late this morning if Melcher should have checked with her office before entering the comments on the Federal Register, Brown said, “That probably would have been a good idea.”
In effectively reversing the state’s position, she said it was “critically important that we maintain rangewide recovery for wolves across the entire Western United States and I think it’s critical they maintain their listing status for that to happen.”
Dominic Aiello of the Oregon Outdoor Council disagreed sharply with the governor’s move.
“The proposed removal of the wolf — or any species — from the federal Endangered Species Act should be cheered as a conservation success story. Unfortunately, the ESA continues to be used by local and national environmental groups and some politicians as a means to force their political agenda. It is extremely disappointing to see Governor Brown undercut science and the state’s biologists,” he said.
Indeed, wildlife management is based in science — but politics does invade the realm, sometimes more nakedly than others.
Earlier this month, the nomination of a Northeast Oregon hunter, outfitter and conservationist to serve on ODFW’s Fish and Wildlife Commission was scuttled after environmental groups objected, and then changed their tune about why they were objecting.
Objections from environmental groups also led to what’s believed to be a first in Washington, Gov. Jay Insee’s 2015 order to the Fish & Wildlife Commission to reverse a decision involving slightly increased cougar quotas in parts of Eastern Washington.
This is the second time this decade that the USFWS has proposed delisting gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Oregon, Washington and elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies (which include the eastern thirds of both states, where wolves were Congressionally removed in 2011).
The other time, in 2013, it was derailed through the courts.
Meanwhile, the species is clearly recovered and not in any danger of failing in the Northwest, thanks to strong protections put in place by ODFW, WDFW and other state wildlife management agencies.
Comments on this latest proposal were due Tuesday, but USFWS has since extended the deadline until July 15, and Brown’s will now stand as the state’s statement.
“ODFW appreciates and respects the governor’s clarification of the state’s position on federal wolf delisting in the Lower 48,” said agency spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy.