Wolves are certainly one of most controversial of wild mammal species. The European wolf population appears to be expanding. But governments appear divided on whether to allow that or sharply cut their numbers.
According to The Conversation European wolf numbers may be up as much as 25 per cent recently. But governments are reacting to that news differently. Italy seems to welcome wolves. Partly because they may help solve the problem of feral pigs. But some people are poisoning Italian wolves. Other countries, Such as Sweden, take a stricter approach.
One of many conservation issues with wolves is how to obtain consensus. Often, consensus is not sought. Conservation (or eradication) is top-down. The government decides and implements policy. That attitude is changing.
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 wolf hunt shows how difficult that is.
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. Sweden and Norway do not represent the extent of the European wolf population. By contrast, Poland, Romania and Germany each has wolf populations numbering well over 1,000. Italy has made headlines by estimating their number at 3,300.
Norway and Sweden 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.
But a determined set of people wants more wolves not fewer.
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. Today’s Swedish wolves moved into the country from Russia and Finland after the last Swedish wolves died.
Conservation is a broadly popular goal but it depends on who is conserving what. Wolves are a flashpoint animal and show just how difficult conservation management can be.