Speak for the Trees and Never Cry Wolf: former UO law student litigates on behalf of the environment

Nick Cady, a University of Oregon Law School Alumnus and the Legal Director for Eugene-based nonprofit Cascadia Wildlands, dedicates himself to the protection of Oregon’s natural resources and wildlife.

Drawn to UO for its public interest law program, Cady left his home state of Missouri for Eugene in 2009 and has been planting roots and protecting trees ever since. Cascadia Wildlands, the organization Cady represents, was founded by UO students in 1998 when they traded tree sit-ins for lawsuits in attempt to tackle environmental protection using more legal tactics.

Cady began his tenure with Cascadia Wildlands in 2010 as an intern during law school. He grew into the role of full-time Legal Director as soon as he graduated and passed the bar exam. As a litigator and agitator on behalf of forests, wolves and wildlife, Cady has positioned himself against some of the strongest and most entrenched interests in the state including ranchers, timber companies and state legislators.

At age 30, Cady lists the greatest achievement in his young career as the halting of clear-cut logging on old growth forest in the 80,000+ acre Elliott State Forest, which was under intense pressure to be logged during the Governorship of John Kitzhaber. “While that was a huge success, the state, in retaliation, and foolishly I think, is moving to sell the forest,” said Cady.

The Elliott State Forest is currently for sale to private buyers by the state of Oregon for $220.8 million, a move which Cady said he believes is unconstitutional and which he will be litigating and organizing against in the months and years to come.

Through his work protecting the Elliott State Forest, Cady became privy to the tit-for-tat politics that too often determine how decisions are made regarding natural resources.


Nick Cady (courtesy of Cascadia Wildlands)

His experience in the Elliott State Forest case helped him prepare to take on one of the most heavily contested environmental issues in Oregon, the future status of wolves in the state.

While wolves once roamed freely throughout Oregon, the westward expansion of Euro-American settlers laid a heavy toll on the native carnivores. In The Wolf Almanac, historian Robert Busch cites records that show the last remaining wolf in Oregon was killed in 1946 by settlers and ranchers.

At the end of the 21st century, as attitudes toward wolves and nature conservation in general shifted, wolves were slowly re-introduced into their former habitats. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the first re-entry of wolves into Oregon occurred in 1999 and the first documentation of a wolf pup born in Oregon was in 2008. At the time of their re-entry, a public opinion poll conducted by independent public research firm Davis and Hibbits found that 70 percent of Oregonians approved of wolves reentering the state. As the wolf population rose to around 85 with 13 breeding pairs in 2015, the D.C. based research firm, Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, found that support for wolves had stayed consistent with 66 percent of Oregonians supporting the then current protections for gray wolves.

Despite public support for wolves, the ODFW and State Legislature have recently delisted wolves as endangered species. This was a move that Cady argues both does not consider the best available biological knowledge nor honestly represent the conservation status of the gray wolf.

Cady has recently butted heads with Oregon state legislators, some of whom he has even filed ethics complaints against regarding House Bill 4040, which ratifies the decision of the ODFW to delist wolves as endangered species. Cady contends that some legislators “blatantly mischaracterized” the bill by portraying it as a simple pat on the back to the ODFW, while in practice it has effectively undermined judicial review of the ODFW’s recommendation to delist wolves as endangered species.

While Cady’s ethic complaints were dismissed on shaky and seemingly political grounds, the fight to protect wolves continues as Cady and other wolf advocates continue to argue against the legality of wolf delisting and challenge the constitutionality of HB 4040.

Outside of the courtroom and back on campus, Cady was a recent panelist at the “Howling Mad” event hosted by the UO Law School on Aug. 16. Cady continues to work on cases with fellow law graduates and speaks fondly of his former wildlife law professor Julia Olson’s current climate change justice case.

From sturdy UO roots, Cady stands tall in defense of the environment and the natural inheritance of generations to come.

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Carl Segerstrom

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