In Europe, there are only a few regions where wolves (Canis lupus) can live a peaceful life. In past centuries, they were hunted mercilessly, sometimes even exterminated. After being protected in many places, they are now slowly returning, but this only brings joy to some people. They are also making a comeback in Scandinavia — much to the displeasure of hunters, farmers and reindeer herders. To prevent the wolf population from growing too large, the governments of Norway and Sweden authorize the shooting of a certain number of animals each year. After a seven-year break, Finland has also issued licenses again this year. A total of 96 wolves are to be shot in Scandinavia during the current winter.
The arguments of the proponents of the wolf hunt are always the same: wolves kill livestock and people are afraid of wolves. But instead of striving for constructive solutions such as herd protection and raising awareness among the population, hunting and farmers’ associations and other opponents of wolves usually call for shooting. Their attitude often enough prevents an ecological balance from being restored by the presence of large predators.
In Norway and Sweden, the annual licensed hunt began on January 1, with almost all of the 27 released wolves already shot in Sweden during the first days of the hunt. Although the wolf is threatened with extinction in Norway and is on the Red List, 51 wolves have been approved for shooting by the Ministry of Environment and Climate, 25 of which live within the wolf protection zone. In total, there are between 109 and 114 wolves in the country, with slightly more than 50 living in the border area with Sweden and seen on both sides of the border.
In Sweden, according to the last census in the winter of 2020/21, there are 395 wolves, and the population is considered vulnerable.
The nature and animal protection organizations WWF Norway, NOAH and FVR (The Our Predators Association) filed a lawsuit against the killing of the wolves in the protected zone, claiming that hunting in the protected area violates the National Biodiversity Act and the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. At least, they reached a temporary stop of the hunt in the area even before it could start. The local farmers’ association, on the other hand, expressed shock at the hunting halt and fears that wolves will continue to spread next summer. The court will make the final decision at the end of January.
Outside the wolf zone, the establishment of wolves in Norway is not desired and all 26 animals living in four packs are to be shot to ensure the protection of grazing animals.
“It’s a horrific situation,” says Siri Martinsen, executive director of NOAH. “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.”
Christian Anton Smedshaug, the state secretary to the Norwegian minister for climate and environment, countered, “The primary concern for managing large carnivores in Norway is to maintain livestock grazing, with as few losses as possible. Furthermore, husbandry also contributes to common goods like cultural landscapes and biological diversity.”
In Sweden, attempts by conservation groups to stop hunting have been unsuccessful. On the other hand, hunting and farmers’ associations demand a much greater reduction of the population by one hundred wolves. In three Swedish counties, they believe all packs should even be shot.
“Sweden has promised the EU we will not go below 300 — that’s the bare minimum,” says Magnus Orrebrant, chairman of the 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,” Orrebrant adds. “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.”
In Finland, for the first time in seven years, a licensed hunt of wolves will be held again, in which from a total of about 300 animals in a maximum of four areas 18 wolves, in each case all animals of a pack, may be killed starting on February 1.
“Through hunting, we ensure that people can feel safe everywhere in Finland, including in areas where wolves are present. Our goal is to regulate the growth of the wolf population, prevent damage and improve the acceptance of wolves,” Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä said in a press release.
A genetically healthy wolf population is 500 animals, according to a calculation by the Natural Resources Institute Finland.
“The long-term goal is to reach the genetic viability of the wolf population,” says Sami Niemi, of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. “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.”
Sami Säynevirta ,of Luonto-Liitto, a Finnish nature association, counters: “There needs to be a change of attitude towards wildlife. It’s important to talk about the benefits of the wolf — they play a key role in a healthy ecosystem but news about wolves is pretty much concentrated on the negative side.”
Nature conservation groups in Finland and Sweden have filed complaints with the European Commission against the actions of their governments because, in their view, the current licensed hunting of wolves violates the EU Habitats Directive.
“The report on the state of nature published by the European Commission shows that nature is constantly being depleted. It is important that the commission intervenes in Finland’s ongoing attempts to find ways to start wolf hunting. Hunting a highly endangered wolf violates the strict protection obligation of the Habitats Directive and sends the wrong message to society,” says Francisco Sánchez Molina, the head of Luonto-Liitto.
Meanwhile, there are also new sightings of wolves in central Europe. In Switzerland, there have been recent encounters between humans and wolves in Valais and Graubünden, where the wolves are said to have shown no fear. One wolf from Graubünden was doomed by its “problematic behavior” — it was shot today.
In Germany, a wolf has been roaming for some time through Upper Bavaria and, after it killed several sheep, the government of Upper Bavaria gave the approval for shooting it a few days ago. A lawsuit by conservation groups is in preparation. One can only hope for the wolf that this will be successful or that it will find its way to the Berchtesgaden National Park, where it would be safe.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal