PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As the battle over Oregon's recent delisting of the gray wolf as endangered is waged in a courtroom, the state's lone Republican congressman helped convince the House to approve a plan to remove all protections for the species at the federal level.
The proposal cleared the chamber Wednesday with a 223-201 vote and now heads to the Senate,
It was introduced Monday by Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Washington state Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse as an amendment to a large federal appropriations package.
The plan would enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward with its proposal made three years ago to delist the gray wolf under the federal Endangered Species Act by 2017.
Population management would instead be at the discretion of the lower 48 states, although it wouldn't directly impact state-level endangered species lists or wolf management plans in separate places such as Oregon.
"Oregon's wolf population has grown by more than 40 percent, and yet we have this divided management strategy in the federal government where in part of the state wolves are still listed and part of the state they're not," Walden said in a statement. "We need a single management strategy where we have local control under the Oregon state plan."
Gray wolves in the eastern third of Oregon are under state management but, as of last fall, are not considered endangered as they are by federal officials elsewhere in the state.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission took the wolf off the state endangered list in November — a decision wildlife advocates are currently fighting in appeals court — and now revising its wolf management plan as required every five years.
With federal delisting in limbo as the wolf population keeps growing, Walden said there's little recourse for area ranchers and challenges for the five year review of the Oregon Wolf Plan.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat and longtime wolf advocate who voted against Walden's amendment, said the issue stems from an irrational fear of wolves that farm and cattlemen's associations use to put "tremendous pressure" on conservatives.
"It's borne of some ancestral, irrational fear of wolves, which permeates the agricultural community and the Republican Party here in Washington, D.C.," DeFazio told The Associated Press, noting the gray wolf is already partially delisted at the federal level as of a few years ago.
The broader bill containing the wolf amendment won't clear the Senate, he said. But in year-end negotiations, "I assume the Republicans will assert, 'Oh gee, we got all these amendments and we want them in the year-end deal,' which (is) how they got the first partial delisting of the wolves," DeFazio said.
Nick Cady, attorney for Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands, one of the groups fighting the state's delisting in court, also expressed concerns about how year-end wolf negotiations would play out.
"It is just so apparent that so-called 'local control' simply means an absence of protections for the species," Cady said.