Who will speak for the gray wolves? Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity, that's who.
In November, in a 4-2 vote, gray wolves were taken off Oregon's Endangered Species Act list.
That means, according to the National Wildlife Federation, they are no longer protected from anyone who would "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct," as well as "interfering in vital breeding and behavioral activities or degrading critical habitat" and "being traded or sold."
But this morning, three conservation groups filed a legal challenge to that removal, saying in a press release by Oregon Wild that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission "violated the law by failing to follow best available science and prematurely removing protections before wolves are truly recovered."
There are 85 wolves in Oregon, which is four more than in 2014. But Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in the press release: "It's simply too soon to remove protections for Oregon's wolves. The gray wolf remains endangered, and protections should never have been removed."
Rob Klavins, a conservation advocate for Oregon Wild in Wallowa County, adds: "We look forward to the day we can celebrate the recovery of wolves in Oregon, but in a rush to declare 'Mission Accomplished,' the state caved to political pressure. If there were fewer than 100 elk or salmon or eagles left in the state, the agency would be scrambling to protect them. Wolves are being treated differently."
Not everyone thinks the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission made the wrong call, though. Last year, we wrote about hostilities between conservationists and ranchers over the return of wolves in Oregon. €In rural parts of the state, many people are angry that wolves have been reintroduced at all, let alone protected. In that story, rancher and head of the Wolf Task Force said: "We didn't want wolves here to begin with because we knew what the outcome was going to be, and that's been realized now. So anything that has to do with a wolf being here at all is a compromise."
As for when we can expect some sort of ruling on the challenge, Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands says it could be a while.
"Oregon Court of Appeals sometimes takes a very long time to complete cases, up to two years," Cady told us over the phone. "We're not sure when they'll come out with an opinion on the matter."