Finland joins Sweden and Norway in culling wolves this winter to control their population, as conservation groups call on the European Union to take action against culling.
Swedish hunters have already culled most of their annual target of 27 wolves, while Finland is to allow the cull of 20 wolves in its first “population management cull” in seven years.
Norway will kill around 60% of its wolves this winter – 51 animals – to maintain a maximum of just three breeding pairs in the country, with its population including animals living between Sweden and Norway limited to four to six breeding pairs.
Conservationists accuse the Nordic countries of creating the most hostile environment for wolves in Western Europe and flouting EU laws protecting the species, which has made a comeback in recent years but remains endangered in many country.
“It’s a horrific situation,” said Siri Martinsen, chief executive of Noah, an animal rights group that is challenging wolf hunting in Norway in its courts. “The management of wolves in Norway is out of control and they just shoot wolves because some people don’t like them. It is scandalous to maintain a species at a critical level of extinction.
In Norway, 5% of the country is designated as a wolf protection area, where the protection of wolves is a priority. Despite this, 25 wolves will be killed inside the protection zone this winter, unless Noah’s legal action, in collaboration with WWF Norway and the association Our Predators, is successful.
Wolves found outside the protection zone are not allowed to breed and are killed if a regional committee decides they “may pose a threat” to livestock or semi-domesticated reindeer.
Although Norway is not an EU member, wildlife groups say its killing of wolves violates the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.
Christian Anton Smedshaug, State Secretary to Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, said: “Keeping the Norwegian wolf population at this level is a political compromise reached by a majority in parliament in 2016 in order to maintain both wolves and livestock in Norway and to bridge different societal opinions in Norway.
“The main concern of large carnivore management in Norway is to keep livestock grazing, with as little loss as possible. In addition, livestock also contributes to commons such as cultural landscapes and biological diversity.
“Wolves feed on game, and the presence of wolves can therefore affect hunting locally. Wolves can also pose a threat to dogs used for hunting small and big game. Reducing effects on hunting is not, however, a primary objective behind the population objective or a primary objective in the management of large carnivores.
In Sweden, wildlife groups say the 2020-2021 population estimate of 395 may have fallen below 300 by the end of this winter.
“Sweden has promised the EU not to go below 300 – that’s the bare minimum,” said Magnus Orrebrant, president of the NGO Svenska Rovdjursföreningen. “We informed the EU that 300 is far too low. We have habitat that could house over 1,000 wolves. »
“The common denominator in Norway, Sweden and Finland is the strong hunting organizations that politicians worry about,” Orrebrant added. “There are no farms near some of the packs they hunt this winter. The wolves haven’t created any problems, but it’s an important place to hunt moose and hunters want a large moose population.
Hunters also oppose wolves because they kill highly prized hunting dogs, widely used in Nordic countries to track down game and deer.
Finland’s wolf population of 300 is the highest in a century, according to Sami Niemi, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in charge of wolf management.
Modeling by the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources indicates that a population of genetically healthy wolves should be over 500.
“The long-term goal is to achieve genetic viability of the wolf population,” Niemi said. “When we set the objective of the management hunt, we took into consideration that we are not aiming for a reduction in the population. The goal of management hunting is to increase tolerance to the wolf population, especially among people who share their environment with wolves.
On the argument that a wolf kill reassures worried rural communities that wolf populations are under control, and thus reduces illegal killing, Sami Säynevirta of Luonto-Liitto, a Finnish charity for wildlife, said: “This argument has been made for many years, but we still have the problem of poaching. The authorities should really act to prevent it.
“We need to change our attitude towards wildlife. It’s important to talk about the benefits of the wolf – they play a key role in a healthy ecosystem, but the news about wolves is mostly negative.
Professor 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 would think that these countries would be able to live with their predators, especially given their low population densities. This seems to be motivated by hunting interests and the argument that wolves are a danger to hunting dogs.
Wildlife groups in Finland and Sweden have appealed to the European Commission and European Court of Justice to declare wolf kills illegal, but both national governments argue that exemptions to the Habitats Directive allow legal slaughter.
In Norway, Martinsen called on other European countries “to step in and file complaints with the Berne Convention so that we can put an end to this situation where Norway is leading the way in tolerating a policy of extinction and doing so that these conventions are not worth the paper they are written on”.