Three European countries, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, are culling wolves this winter in order to regulate their populations, while conservation groups urge the European Union to intervene. According to The Guardian, hunters in Sweden have already killed the majority of their yearly goal of 27 wolves, while Finland is planning to kill 20 wolves in its first "population management cull" in seven years.
Apart from the two countries, Norway will slaughter about 60% of its wolf population, about 51 wolves, in order to restrict the country's wolf population to a maximum of three breeding pairs.
Conservation groups have accused Nordic countries of creating the most unfavorable conditions for wolves in Western Europe as a result of this situation, as well as of violating EU legislation intended to protect the animal, which has recovered in recent years but remains vulnerable in many countries.
"It's a horrific situation," said Siri Martinsen, CEO of Noah, an animal rights organization that is suing Norway over its wolf hunts. “Norway’s wolf management is out of control and they are just shooting wolves because some people don’t like them. It is outrageous to hold a species at a critically endangered level.”
In Norway, a wolf protection zone encompasses 5% of the country, with wolves being protected as a top priority. Regardless, 25 wolves will be killed this winter inside the protection zone unless Noah's legal case, which includes WWF Norway and Association Our Predators, is successful. Wolves discovered outside the protective zone are not permitted to breed and are killed if a regional council determines that they "may pose a threat" to livestock or semi-domesticated reindeer. Despite the fact that Norway is not a member of the EU, wildlife organizations claim that their wolf slaughter is in violation of the Bern Convention on the conservation of European species and natural ecosystems.
“Keeping the Norwegian wolf population at this level is a political compromise reached by a majority in parliament in 2016 in order to keep both wolves and livestock production in Norway and bridge different societal views in Norway." Christian Anton Smedshaug, state secretary to Norway's minister of climate and environment, said.
In Sweden, wildlife groups say the 395 population estimate for 2020-21 could have fallen below 300 by that winter’s end. “Sweden has promised the EU we should not go below 300 – that’s the bare minimum," said Magnus Orrebrant, chair of the non-governmental organization Svenska Rovdjursföreningen. “We have informed the EU that 300 is way too low. We have habitat that could house more than 1,000 wolves.”
“The common denominator in Norway, Sweden and Finland is the strong hunting organisations which make the politicians worried,” added Orrebrant. “There are no farms near some of the packs they are hunting this winter. The wolves have not created any problems whatsoever but it’s an important place to hunt moose and hunters want a large moose population.” Wolves are particularly disliked by hunters because they prey on highly prized hunting dogs, which are commonly utilized to track game and deer in Nordic countries.
Finland’s wolf population of 300 is the highest for a century, according to Sami Niemi, a ministry of agriculture and forestry official in charge of wolf management. “The long-term goal is to reach the genetic viability of the wolf population,” said Niemi. “When we set down the goal for the management hunt, we took into consideration we weren’t aiming for a population reduction. The goal for the management hunt is to increase the tolerance to the wolf population especially among people who share their environment with wolves.”
According to research conducted by the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, a genetically healthy wolf population should number more than 500 individuals.
Prof Fiona Matthews, founding chair of Mammal Conservation Europe, said: “It seems extraordinary that countries are blatantly doing things that are illegal under the EU habitats directive. You’d think these countries would be able to live with their predators particularly given their low population densities. It seems to be driven by hunting interests and the argument that wolves are a danger to hunting dogs.”
Wildlife groups in Finland and Sweden have petitioned the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to declare the wolf culls illegal, but both national governments believe that derogations from the Habitats Directive allow for legal culls.
Siri Martinsen urged other European countries to " intervene and submit objections with the Bern Convention so that we can halt this situation where Norway is leading the way in allowing an extermination policy and rendering these accords worthless."
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