Wolves also divide ruling coalition

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Norway’s government coalition parties need to tackle yet another divisive issue that’s prompting howls on both sides. The Center Party wants to kill more wolves and other predators, while the Socialist Left (SV) wants to protect them.

This wolf was killed in traffic, but others have been victims of illegal hunting. Controversy continues to rage over Norway's wolf population, which currently amounts to about 40 animals. PHOTO: Foreningen Våre Rovdyr/Yngve Kvebæk

Conflicts between advocates of wild and domestic animals have long been a troublesome issue in Norway. SV wants to protect wolves, bears and lynxes. The Center Party, with its close links to farming and ranch interests, wants them pushed back and preferably culled. During the next six months, the two parties have to agree on hunting quotas and how many wolves and bears Norway should have.

Sheep ranchers have traditionally left their animals to fend for themselves in unfenced forest and mountain pastures throughout the summer grazing season. With the near extermination of major predators decades ago, this practice caused few problems. 

Recently, though, carnivores have been allowed to re-establish themselves in areas where sheep and cattle graze. The result has been heated debates between the farm lobby and those who favour having a substantial stock of predators in the wild.

This wolf lives in a wildlife park in the mountains of central Norway. PHOTO: Arne Flor

Oil industry access to the Lofoten area is thus not the only issue dividing the ruling three-party coalition, writes newspaper Aftenposten. According to the government’s platform agreed after the last general election, it plans to ask Parliament for a consensus on permitted population figures for each group of carnivores.

Last time the subject was debated in the Parliament the result was a fudge: Support for conservation as well as the continuance of unsupervised grazing.

Politicians from the traditionally agrarian Sp believe that advocates of predator preservation generally get a better deal than rural farmers.  Sp managed to get its partners to agree to a review of the target figures for wolf and bear population Norway should have during this government period.  Sp thinks there are too many of both.

“Yes there are, and we can document this, too,” Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk, who hails from Sp, told Aftenposten.

“Lynx and wolverine numbers significantly exceed the target figures agreed by Parliament,” Brekk added. “If you include migratory wolves crossing the border (from Sweden), there are probably more than enough wolves. In my opinion, we have enough bears, too.”

Heidi Sørensen of Brekk’s government partner SV firmly disagrees. “From an ecological point of view, this is not so,” she says. “Previously bears roamed throughout most of Norway. Compared to Sweden we have very few carnivores in the wild.  They have 3,000 bears, whereas DNA-results show that 164 bears have spent time in Norway during 2009.

“Whether there is room for more of these animals in Norway is a political question that has to be resolved with relation to our international obligations and the law governing species conservation,” Sørensen told Aftenposten.

‘Manufactured conflict’
Wildlife advocates are frustrated by the opposition mounted by Sp. “This is a conflict manufactured by Center Party politicians, ” Arne Flor, who heads the predator preservation group Foreningen Våre Rovdyr (Norwegian Carnivore and Raptor Society), told Views and News

 “According to recent mapping, only a handful of sheep graze east of the Glomma river in Hedmark county,” Flor said. “This area alone is more than big enough to support all of Norway’s bear population.

“The wolf population is hanging by a thin thread. This (present regime) is conservation through the barrel of a gun,” he adds. 

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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