The Norwegian government is standing by its decision to stop a hunt that would have killed off at least two-thirds of the country’s wolf population, but on Tuesday it allowed state authorities to issue a new license to shoot three more wolves in Hedmark and Akershus counties. That pleased both sides in Norway’s heated debate over wolves.
The wolves targeted are located outside the so-called “wolf zones” where the wolves are supposed to be allowed to roam. “When there’s a danger that wolves outside the zone can damage grazing animals, our clear position is that they can be shot,” Thomas Cottis, leader of the Hedmark chapter of Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
This year’s limited winter hunt quota was filled on January 11, but on January 12, the tracks of two wolves were found in Løten, which is a priority area for open grazing. The tracks of a third wolf were also found in Sør-Odal. All three wolves are believed to pose a threat so the state environmental agency Miljødirektoratet approved a new hunt.
Cottis said he had confidence in the decision announced Tuesday morning. Erling Aas-Eng, leader of the Hedmark farmers’ association (Hedmark bondelag) was also pleased, but claimed the approval to kill three more wolves “shows that there are too many wolves in the area.” Neither he nor other ranchers and residents who feel threatened by wolves are backing down from their strong, noisy opposition to the government’s decision just before Christmas to cancel a much larger hunt that would have killed 47 of Norway’s estimated 68 wolves.
The problem is that the wolves don’t always stay within the zones where they’re supposed to be allowed to survive. Anti-wolf activists also think there are still too many wolves even in the zones where they’re allowed. Statistics vary widely however, with Naturvernforbundet claiming in December that Norway only has 39 to 41 wolves, not 68, according to new statistics from Rovdata, which delivers official surveillance results and predator population estimates for lynx, bears, wolverines, badgers, wolves and eagles.
As the wolf debate continues, the man who won credit and criticism for saving Norway’s wolf population was addressing Parliament on Tuesday, explaining why the government can’t change its decision to halt the bigger hunt. Vidar Helgesen, government minister in charge of climate and environmental issues, has been attacked by both opposition parties and members of his own Conservative Party who live in areas where wolves wander.
While wolf opponents held a silent protest by holding up anti-wolf signs in the spectators’ balcony, Helgesen told Parliament why legal issues prevent Norway from carrying out the hunt, because it would violate the terms of international conventions. He has also contended that Norway can’t copy Sweden’s recent decision to approve a bigger wolf hunt, because of differences in Norwegian and Swedish law. The bottom line, however, is that Norway’s total wolf population is still too small to justify a wolf hunt that would satisfy ranchers and other wolf opponents.
“If people’s fear of wolves should form the foundation for a hunt, then we’d need health and safety documentation as well under the law,” Helgesen said. Wolves haven’t attacked or killed a human being for more than 200 years in Norway. The other major objections to wolves are fueled by economic interests, with ranchers wanting to protect their free-grazing livestock and land-owners wanting to protect the revenues they take in by granting hunting rights. Wolves can scare away moose and other wildlife and spoil hunting traditions, not least in Hedmark, Akershus and Oppland where Norway’s wolves are located.
Marking wolves for more documentation
Meanwhile, in an effort to cool down the conflict, Helgesen has approved a program to capture and mark wolves with radio senders that can allow authorities to keep track of their movements. That can help determine whether the wolves present a clear and present danger, while Miljødirektoratet has also been ordered to update its professional evaluation of the wolves’ behaviour. Fourteen wolves have been found, drugged, examined and marked so far before being set free again.
Opposition politicians continue to demand that Helgesen and the government clarify how they will carry out the Parliament’s compromise on wolf population management. Gathering documentation of damage or real threats is part of the government’s efforts, to control the wolf population without breaking its own laws.
Helgesen may be heartened by a new survey published by newspaper Hamar Arbeiderblad, located in Hedmark County where a majority of wolf opponents live. The survey, conducted by Sentio Research for the newspaper, showed that fully 70 percent of all those questioned approve of having wolves in the environment, as long as their numbers are controlled. Only 20 percent wanted to wipe out the wolf population entirely.