Recently we reported on a new conservation alliance, The Partners Conservation Alliance which hopes to end “top down” i.e. mandated conservation goals. The alliance says those goals may not reflect the desires or the reality of the local peoples and may “marginalize” them. The goal is to balance the needs of the local people, the animals and the government. A legal Swedish wolfhunt shows how difficults that is.
Recent events in Sweden show just how difficult that balancing act is. How does Top down conservation work and what happens if the people in the country have diametrically opposed views.?
With wolves as the issue, of course there will be angry dispute. Perhaps no animal generates as much polarized opinion. Broadly speaking there are wolf “lovers” and wolf “haters” and passion overrules reason.
The Swedish government recently authorized a “cull” or sanctioned killing of many of the wolves in that nation. Since Sweden has a representative government, that should be the end of it. But hardly so.
According to The Guardian, Sweden has about 360 wolves. It shares a border with Norway which also has some wolves. The wolves in the two countries are considered endangered (critically endangered in Norway). Both governments have set very strict numbers for the wolf population. Sweden authorized the killing of 75, Norway will only permit four to six births a year.
Both countries have strong hunting lobbies.
“Hunting is absolutely necessary to slow the growth of wolves. The wolf pack is the largest we have had in modern times,” Gunnar Glöersen, predator manager at the Swedish Hunters’ Association, told local press…” according to the paper. The implication being that an increase in wolf numbers is somehow bad. It conveniently ignores that they were recently extinct in Sweden.
The government and some Swedes, see wolves as a threat to livestock, a claim that is hotly disputed by conservationists. Swedish shepherds say wolves killed 450 sheep at the last tally. Wolves are certainly capable of killing sheep. Wild Sweden says that anti-wolf sentiment resulted in their extinction in Sweden in the 1960’s.
Per The Guardian:
“Marie Stegard, the president of the anti-hunting group Jaktkritikerna, said: “Wolves as top predators in the food chain are a prerequisite for biodiversity. Killing a quarter of the population through hunting has negative consequences for animals and nature. It’s disastrous for the entire ecosystem. The existence of wolves contributes to a richer animal and plant life. Human survival depends on healthy ecosystems.”
Scientists and conservationists want the wolf numbers to remain about where they are, no lower than 300. But most of parliament wants the number around 170. There is suspicion, the Guardian says, that the numbers picked by parliament are chosen simply because many members are hunters and they want an excuse to hunt wolves. Some scientists fear 170 is too low a number and will lead to inbreeding. The battle is headed to court – another form of “top down” conservation.
Swedish wolves are the descendants of Russo-Finnish wolves who crossed borders beginning in the 1970’s.
So whose values are “marginalized” in this equation – hunters and livestock owners or conservationists? The paper quotes government officials as recognizing the tide may be turning in the conservationist’s favor. More and more Swedes are tolerant of wolves, the paper notes. But the hunting lobby remains strong and well represented in parliament.
Conservation is still a battle between competing interests. In many nations “top down” requirements are essential for the survival of threatened species. But as Sweden shows, it is not always easy to treat opposing values equally.