The Norwegian government, under heavy pressure from ranchers, hunters and others who feel threatened by wolves, is now seeking a quick change in the law that currently restricts a new wolf hunt. WWF, the international organization that champions protection of wildlife, quickly vowed on Wednesday that it will sue the government to block the move.
“If politicians in the Parliament don’t get their way, shall we be able to just change the law?” Nina Jensen, leader of WWF in Norway, asked rhetorically after news broke that the Conservatives-led government is now trying to appease wolf opponents in Parliament.
After first blocking a new wolf hunt on the grounds it would violate both Norwegian law and Norway’s commitments to international conventions, Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen of the Conservatives is now backtracking. He confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday that his government is proposing to change existing law to give state wildlife authorities the “possibility” to shoot a “limited” number of wolves out of consideration to “science, culture, economy, recreation and diversity in the nature.”
“This wouldn’t grant any full power to shoot down the wolf population,” Helgesen insisted to NRK, “but it gives us more flexibility (to kill more wolves) than we have today.”
It would also get the anti-wolf Center Party, which has been howling mightily over Helgesen’s initial decision to protect Norway’s wolves, off the government’s back, along with some Members of Parliament from his own party and many others who felt betrayed by Helgesen’s ban in December on a new hunt. They all thought they’d hammered out a compromise in Parliament last summer that should give authorities permission to eradicate two-thirds of Norway’s wolf population, which only recently has recovered from the brink of extinction. Instead they met an international outcry and, ultimately, the Justice Ministry’s interpretation of Norwegian law that bans a hunt, which Helgesen felt obliged to follow.
Profits and fear vs. wildlife conservation
Helgesen has been taking most of the flak from farmers, ranchers, rural residents who’ve spotted wolves and, not least, land owners who profit from a wolf hunt because wolves on their land can scare away the moose and other wildlife that hunters pay large amounts to shoot. As economics professor Andres Skonhoft at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim recently wrote in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last month, “the conflict between wolves and the hunting value of moose can be viewed as a conflict between the interests of landowners, who want the most profit, and society, which wants biological diversity and protection for an important species.”
Skonhoft noted that farmers and ranchers, who receive lots of subsidy and tariff protection from foreign competion in Norway, are also compensated by the state when their free-grazing livestock is killed by predators, with many more of those incidents tied to badgers, bears, dogs and even eagles than wolves. Skonhoft wondered whether the state should just compensate the landowners as well, for any hunting-fee losses they may suffer, but since many landowners are wealthy, that may not be politically popular.
Helgesen, at any rate, sent his new proposal to change the law, which the Justice Ministry claimed ruled out a hunt, to hearing this week and he’s clearly in a rush to get it passed. Anyone objecting to a law change has to make their objections known by Monday. “I look forward to the hearing round and am confident that all sides of the issue will be drafted,” Helgesen said.
‘Incredible’ and shows ‘a lack of respect’
Jensen isn’t confident at all and quickly warned that WWF will file suit against the government (in which her own sister Siv Jensen serves as finance minister) to stop any change in the law, hopefully before the winter wolf hunting season runs out. Helgesen has already extended it to March 31.
Jensen told NRK that Helgesen’s proposed law change shows how the government is feeling extremely pressured by the wolf conflict.
“It’s incredible that they’ll go in for changing the laws that are established to preserve diversity in the nature, with the goal of shooting more of a threatened and protected species in Norway,” she told NRK. “It says something about the ridiculous conservation situation we have in this country, and a lack of respect and understanding for how nature holds together.”
Helgesen’s proposed law change, meanwhile, comes just a day after wildlife conservationists were hailing the fact that a new wolf pair apparently has established itself in the hills and forests of Østmarka, which borders on Oslo’s east side. City residents who use Østmarka as a major recreation area haven’t objected to or felt threatened by wolves in the area before, even after one man’s dog was killed by a wolf, pointing up the sharp contrast from many rural residents who want the wolves removed.