Convicted wolf hunters file appeals

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The defense attorney for one of five Norwegian men convicted Tuesday on charges of organized illegal wolf hunting wants the case to be evaluated by Norway’s Supreme Court. He claims prosecutors’ use of a Norwegian law against organized crime in the historic case resulted in jail terms that are much too severe.

“Even though the jail terms weren’t as long as (prosecutors) wanted, this is still a major sharpening of punishment levels,” attorney Steffen Brandstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He unsuccessfully defended one of the men who was sentenced to jail for 10 months. Prosecutors had wanted his client jailed for 15 months.

Hunters’ leader handed harshest sentence
Brandstad’s client was among the defendants who appealed their convictions immediately after they were handed down Tuesday morning by a local court in Hedmark County, eastern Norway. Six men were charged with trying to kill three wolves, a protected species in Norway, on February 15 last year. One was acquitted while four others received jail terms ranging from six months to a year.

The alleged ringleader of the men charged in the case, a 48-year-old avid hunter from Elverum, was sentenced to jail for a year and eight months after he also was convicted of shooting a wolf while he allegedly was out hunting foxes on March 14 last year.

The landmark case was filed in an effort to try to stop the illegal wolf hunting that state wildlife authorities and police suspect has been going on for years. Farmers and especially sheep ranchers in Norway often feel threatened by wolves, even though the numbers of wolves remain relatively small after they nearly became extinct just a few decades ago. Conservationists have been trying to rebuild the country’s small wolf population, considering wolves a natural predator in Norway, while many rural residents want to wipe them out.

Political conflict
The political conflict over wolves ultimately led to what’s been considered an historic trial that took place earlier this year in the Sør-Østeral tingrett (local court). Of the 12 hunters initially charged, six were indicted after criminal investigators devoted time and resources that involved tapping the hunters’ telephones. Taped conversations of the hunters jubilantly exclaiming over the success of killing a wolf were played in court.

All of the jail terms were lower than prosecutors sought but the defendants were also stripped of their hunting licenses for periods of between two and five years. Four of them appealed on the spot including the leader of the hunting group, whose defense attorney, Helge Hartz, said his client was “disappointed” by the court ruling. The 48-year-old was seen as having played a central role in both planning and carrying out the illegal wolf hunt.

Prosecutors were pleased by the court’s verdict despite the reduction in jail terms sought. Lead prosecutor Tarjei Istad told NRK the ruling “sends a clear signal” that anyone taking part in illegal wolf hunting “risks sitting in jail for a long time. It’s not worth it. So I hope the ruling will get us on the right track, and that wildlife management of the wolf population won’t have to put up with illegal hunting.”

Istad was especially pleased how the court stressed that any changes in the management of the wolf population must occur within a democratic process, and that hunters opposed to wolves can’t take the law into their own hands. “We’re also pleased that the court viewed this as we did, that this amounted to organized crime, which shall be punished more severely than other crimes,” Istad said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund