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 the killing.
Hunters in Sweden have already shot most of their annual target of 27 wolves, while Finland will authorize the killing 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 keep a maximum of just three breeding pairs in the country, and its population, including animals living between Sweden and Norway, is limited to four or six breeding pairs. .
Conservationists accuse the Nordic nations 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 countries.
“It’s a horrible situation,” said Siri Martinsen, executive director of Noah, an animal rights group that is challenging Norway’s wolf hunt in its courts. “Wolf management in Norway is out of control and they are only shooting wolves because some people don’t like them. It is outrageous to keep a species at a critically endangered level.”
In Norway, 5% of the country is designated as a wolf protection zone, where wolf protection is a priority. Despite this, 25 wolves will die within the protection zone this winter, unless Noah’s legal action, together with WWF Norway and Our Predators Association, is successful.
Wolves outside the protection zone cannot breed and are killed if a regional committee decides they “may pose a threat” to semi-domesticated cattle or reindeer.
Although Norway is not a member of the EU, 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 the Norwegian minister for climate and environment, said: “Keeping the Norwegian wolf population at this level is a political commitment reached by the majority in parliament in 2016 to keep both wolves and livestock production in Norway and save different social visions in Norway.
“The main concern for the management of large carnivores in Norway is to maintain livestock grazing, with as little loss as possible. In addition, agriculture also contributes to common goods such as cultural landscapes and biological diversity.
“Wolves feed on game animals and consequently the presence of wolves can affect local hunting. Wolves can also pose a threat to dogs used for hunting small and large game. However, reducing effects on hunting is not a primary goal behind population targeting or a primary focus in managing large carnivores.”
In Sweden, wildlife groups say the population estimate of 395 for 2020-21 could have fallen below 300 by the end of that winter.
“Sweden has promised the EU that we should not go below 300, that is the minimum,” said Magnus Orrebrant, president of the NGO. Swedish Predator Association. “We have informed the EU that 300 is too low. We have a habitat that could house more than 1,000 wolves.”
“The common denominator in Norway, Sweden and Finland is strong hunting organizations that politicians worry about,” Orrebrant added. “There are no farms near some of the packs that are hunting this winter. The wolves haven’t created any problems, but it’s an important place to hunt elk and hunters want a large elk population.”
Wolves are also opposed by hunters because they kill highly prized hunting dogs, widely used in Nordic nations to track 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.
modeled by Natural Resources Institute of Finland says that a genetically healthy wolf population should be over 500.
“The long-term goal is to reach genetic viability of the wolf population,” Niemi said. “When we set the target for the management hunt, we kept in mind that we were not aiming for a population reduction. The goal of hunting management is to increase tolerance to the wolf population, especially among people who share their environment with wolves.”
On the argument that killing wolves assures anxious rural communities that wolf populations are under control and thus reduces illegal killing, Sami Säynevirta of nature association, a Finnish wildlife charity, said: “This argument has been made for many years, but we still have the problem of poaching. The authorities really should act to prevent it.
“There has to be a change in attitude towards wildlife. It is important to talk about the benefits of the wolf: they play a key role in a healthy ecosystem, but the news about wolves focuses on the negative side.
Professor Fiona Matthews, founding chair of Mammal Conservation Europe, said: “It seems extraordinary that countries are brazenly doing things that are illegal under the EU habitats directive. One would think that these countries could live with their predators, particularly given their low population density. It appears to be driven 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 the European Court of Justice to make wolf killings illegal, but both national governments maintain that derogations from the habitats directive allow legal kills.
In Norway, Martinsen called on other European countries “to step in and complain to the Berne Convention so that we can stop this situation where Norway is leading the way in tolerating a policy of extinction and making these conventions not worth the role in which are written”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism