The U.S. House debate Nov. 16 on de-listing gray wolves in the lower 48 was tinged with Northwest references to OR-7, Washington ranchers and the thought of turning lose apex predators in Portland.
A Virginia lawmaker cited a Washington State University scientist’s assertion that shooting wolves increases attacks on livestock. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer said wolves balance ecosystems and noted the danger suburban motorists face of crashing into deer. Another Oregon congressman, Peter DeFazio, said he wished his southwestern Oregon district had more wolves and dismissed de-listing as idiocy.
The House could have used the hour set aside for the debate on wolves to work on education policy, the budget or a farm bill, said DeFazio, D-Springfield. “But, no, we are here on a talking point for a few idiots,” he said.
The House, still controlled by Republicans for a few more weeks, voted 196-180 to pass H.R. 6784. The measure would strip wolves of federal protection in California, and the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington. Wolves already have been de-listed in Idaho and the eastern one-third of Oregon and Washington.
DeFazio was also dismissive of the bill’s chances of becoming law. “By the way, it’s going nowhere in the Senate,” the veteran congressman said.
Washington Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers said ranchers in her state have been affected by wolves for many years.
“Each year, we are losing hundreds of livestock to wolves and costing our economy millions of dollars,” she said.
“In Eastern Washington, and specifically in northeastern Washington, predation on calves has become common.”
Rep. Don Beyer, whose Virginia district borders Washington, D.C., said he would “love to see the gray wolves in Virginia someday.”
“The war on wolves is based, in part, on a myth that wolves are dangerous to humans and livestock,” he said. “Ironically, research at Washington State University have found that killing wolves leads to an increase in livestock losses caused by wolves.”
In 2014, then-WSU wolf scientist Rob Wielgus presented a study maintaining that shooting wolves broke up packs, encouraged breeding and led to more attacks on livestock. University of Washington researchers looked at the same data, came to the opposite conclusion and criticized Wielgus’ statistical analysis.
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, one of nine Democrats who voted for the bill, said his district has more wolves than any other in the U.S. “So I say to all you folks who think this is such a great idea: We have a lot of extra wolves. We will lend them to your district,” he said.
Blumenauer, D-Portland, called denying wolves federal protection “inappropriate’ and talked about the “benefits of having apex predators to be able to restore ecological balance.”
“I heard the notion of, ‘Well, how would you feel if you were reintroducing wolves in metropolitan areas?’ And I just thought for a moment of listening in the past to people who are overrun with deer in Virginia suburbs, in Maryland suburbs. It is not just messing up their yards; it is killing people. We have several hundred people a year who are killed in collisions with deer,” he said.
A Blumenauer spokesman said in an email the congressman was not suggesting that wolves be released in suburbs. “He was suggesting that reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone and other areas has been shown to benefit ecosystems in multiple ways. Protecting this iconic species across its range allows us the chance to help restore a little bit to the natural world that humans have so fundamentally altered,” the spokesman stated.
DeFazio told the House about the wolf OR-7’s journey from Oregon to California. “He went to California looking for a mate. He finally found one, and those were his first progeny,” DeFazio said. “Guess what? We are not having catastrophic predation on cattle in southern Oregon. We could accommodate more wolves.”
Arkansas Republican Bruce Westerman said he did not think supporting the bill made anyone an idiot.
“I am glad that the gentleman from Oregon is so passionate about wolves, and this bill would be fantastic for him and his state,” Westerman said. “It would allow their natural resources folks to manage their wolves. They could release some in Portland.”