The return of the wolf and new challenges associated with its conservation are currently hot topics across Europe. In light of this, the CIC organized, in the framework of the 65th General Assembly in Madrid, a session dedicated to the topic. This session brought together experts from various stakeholder groups to deliberate the various aspects of wolf conservation. Dr. John Linnel, moderator of the session “Facts or Fables: The wolf beyond Little Red Riding Hood”, gave a short introduction on the controversy surrounding wolf conservation and wolf management plans in Europe to set the scene.
Nicola Notaro, Head of Unit, European Commission DG Environment, in his key note “Stance of the European Commission on wolf conservation”, informed the audience that the wolf is a protected species under The Habitats Directive. At the same time, however, it is recognized that wolves are commonly the subject of human-wildlife conflict, which has resulted in a growing consensus on the issues which arise from co-existence. One of the main causes of the new problems is that wolves came back where they have never been or got extinct many years ago. Certain level of adjustment from all sides is necessary. We need to properly address the conflicts (eg. prevention, mitigation, compensation, lethal management, technical assistance) in a legal framework.
The EU has new budgets dedicated to biodiversity conservation, such as EUROLARGECARNIVORES.
Vesa Ruusila, Director of Game and Recreational Fisheries, from the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, shared, in his speech “What does the EU Member State Finland think? The view of the Government”, that in 2000 wolves existed only in the eastern parts of Finland but just 16 years later they could be found throughout the country with a higher concentration being found in the southern and eastern lands. In Finland, wolves can be hunted in Finland yet there are still social conflicts (such as loss of hunting dogs, fear of wolves among locals) and economic losses (mainly on reindeer and local livestock).
Due to these conflicts there has been a national effort to prepare a management plan, in consultation with local councils, this year which includes a damage compensation system. The main aim for the future is to maintain the favourable conservation status.
Tuomas Hallenberg, President of the Finnish Hunting Association, presented “The view of the Finnish Hunting Association” and further described the situation of wolves in Finland emphasizing that challenges arising in the management of wolves occur mostly in the south. LUKE (Natural Resource Institute of Finland) prepares the wolf population estimates which are not debated. The Finish Hunters’ Association hosted the national wolf forum to promote the dialogue among conservation actors.
After the above experts set the scene, a panel discussion was held including Mr. Notaro; Luis Suarez, WWF Spain; Dr. Valeria Salvatori, Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe; Anne Ollila, Reindeer Herders’ Association of Finland; Torbjörn Larsson, Swedish Hunting Association; and Dr. Juan Carlos Blanco, of the Spanish Wolf Project CBE. The main outcomes included a consensus among all panellists that wolf conservation policy should: be based on science; include different stakeholders in the debates; be more transparent; and have a system of monitoring of the efficacy of research conducted and/or consulted.
While there are some countries where the policies are in line with the above suggestions (i.e. Finland and France), there are those which have flaws to be reconciled. Ms. Ollila, for example, shared that in some instances decisions must be made prior to the availability of scientific research. Dr. Blanc added that in these cases it is necessary to consult traditional knowledge of management to be better informed (though should not be used as the sole source of knowledge).
The panel ended with a plea for flexibility in the development of wolf conservation plans within the EU and other countries where their return is increasingly problematic.