Compromise triggers new hunts

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All of Norway’s political parties have finally struck a new agreement to govern predator management policies, under which as many as 30 male bears could be culled. The compromise has already been greeted with criticism by leading environmental campaign groups.

Bears, like this one pictured at a Danish park, should be on the look out in Norway. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The predator policy area is incredibly contentious, with many rural communities and farmers advocating harsher measures against a range of predators blamed for killing livestock and terrorizing local families. The issue has divided political parties, including those in government – the Center Party, which traditionally finds strong support in rural areas and from farmers, supports a stronger policy, whereas the Socialist Left Party (SV) has key conservationist concerns. The settlement reached on Thursday night has nonetheless been hailed as a rare political compromise.

Bears culled, wolves recalculated, dogs protected
The new deal covers bears, lynx, wolverines and wolves. While lynx and wolverine numbers will be maintained at current levels, there will be a target population of 1.5 adult males per adult female bear. A maximum level of 212 bears in the country has also been set, along with limits for newborn bears. As government statistics show there were 113 male and 53 female adult bears in the country last year, suggesting more than 30 male bears will be killed. Figures revealed last year showed that a record number of bears had already been shot during the 2010 hunting season.

Wolf populations were also addressed in the parliamentary settlement. Here, further negotiation is needed with Sweden before a population target will be set in 2013, after research revealed that migrating wolves from the neighbouring country were responsible for many incidents of livestock death linked to wolves. Nonetheless, politicians agreed to count migrant wolf packs living across the border in Sweden as half a pack for Norwegian statistical purposes.

New regulations have also been introduced to protect dogs. Any predators that attack a dog can now be legally killed in order to protect the dog. Further local measures will be discussed by local representatives.

‘Compromise’
The settlement was lauded as a strong political compromise by many of the involved parties. The agreement came as a relief after negotiations broke off last week, and only resumed on Tuesday.

The Center Party’s Erling Sande, speaking to newspaper Aftenposten, welcomed the measures for bears in particular, stating that “wandering male bears cause large damage to grazing animals” and that “an increased removal of male bears will lead to reduced livestock loss and better predictability for the pastoral farming industry.” Sande was supported by opposition parties including the Progress Party, whose spokesperson Ketil Solvik-Olsen welcomed “the biggest bear hunt in modern times.” Another of Sande’s party colleagues, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, speaking more generally about the agreement, said that “the compromise takes local communities seriously,” adding that Center Party “have managed to pull the settlement far in our direction, but there are others that have pulled the agreement in their direction.” The minister for agriculture, Lars Peder Brekk, also a Center Party member of parliament, suggested that “if we had been alone, we would have gone even further” but emphasized that “it is important that we have a broad basis for this agreement.”

Representatives of the Socialist Left Party were also pleased with the conclusion. Their parliamentary leader, Bård Vegar Solhjell, told Aftenposten that “everyone has given something in the compromise” and described his party as “very satisfied” that the new measures will “ensure that the predators survive in Norway, even after an eventual change of government.” The largest party in government, the Labour Party, were also happy to put the issue that has divided their governing partners to rest – former party secretary Martin Kolberg said that “everyone has a reason to smile” about the settlement reached.

‘Nearly all about killing’
Conservationists were less enthusiastic at the news. Friend of the Earth Norway’s Lars Haltbrekken told Aftenposten that he “fears that the settlement will lead to a strong reduction in the bear population,” resulting in “fewer bear births” and making it “easier to shoot bears.”

WWF Norway’s general secretary, Rasmus Hansson, was also strongly critical of the compromise reached. “Nearly the whole document is about how one can kill predators in the most efficient way possible,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), suggesting that there “is barely a word about the fantastic worth of predators for Norwegian nature.”

Hansson believes further conflict over the issue is likely “as long as the focus in Norwegian predator policy is to finish them off, and not first and foremost to take care of the fantastic natural elements that predators are.” Nonetheless, Hansson praised the governing parties for “having managed to defend the small predator numbers we have,” and he still believes that the issue “is going to develop in the direction of a more respectable policy over time.” The WWF general secretary was more critical of the Conservative Party – he believes that “a large majority” of their voters are “in favour of having predators as a part of Norwegian nature,” but that “the only thing that the party’s politicians have been interested in is to have the predators killed.” Bjørn Lødemel, the Conservative Party’s predator policy spokesperson, rejected this criticism, telling NRK that the party had supported the “balanced” settlement “built on respect for property and for individuals and the local communities’ quality of life.”

In response to the concerns of environmentalists, the minister for the environment, Erik Solheim of the Socialist Left Party, claimed to NRK that the settlement would “secure predators in Norway for generations to come” and described himself as particularly “positive towards the hunt for bears,” as “female bears that birth young in Norway will be better protected” and “we don’t need so many male bears in order to carry the numbers further.” He added that “for the first time, a unanimous parliament has said that it will have all four of the big predators in Norway and, with this, I believe the conflict level with farmers will go down.”

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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