Court refused to block wolf hunt

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A court in Oslo declined to grant another injunction to halt a state-authorized wolf hunt in Norway. The leader of the hunt, which resumed right after a pause during the holidays, quickly vowed “to take out the rest of wolves” allowed in its license to shoot 16.

Wolves like this one face determined hunters in Norway who were backed by a court on Friday. PHOTO: WWF-Norge/Wenche Grønås

Around 100 eager hunters have been tracking down wolves in eastern Hedmark  while the snow on the ground makes it much easier to surround them. They shot and killed three wolves on the hunt’s first day, then two more while first wounding and then killing a third.

By midday on Friday the hunters had shot and killed a total of 10. Arne Sveen, who’s leading the hunters who want to rid their rural area of the predator, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that there was “no doubt” the remaining six wolves covered under his group’s license, would be shot as well.

They’d been racing against the clock to shoot as many wolves as possible before the Oslo City Court (Oslo Tingrett) issued a ruling on demands from the environmental wildlife protection organization WWF Norge that it be halted. WWF sought another injunction as its lawsuit against the state proceeds. WWF sued the state last year, claiming the hunt approved by Parliament was illegal because the wolf population is still threatened and Norway has international obligations to protect the species.

The court, however, opted to view the wolf population that often wanders across the border between Norway and Sweden as a whole. Since there are many more wolves officially counted in Sweden than in Norway, the total of 42 wolves included in the state’s hunting licenses in several counties in southeastern Norway was not viewed as enough to threaten the species with extinction.

‘Heartbreaking’
WWF argues that’s wrong, that there are only around 56 wolves in all of southern Norway and that killing 42 of them will wipe out the population that’s been carefully revived over the past four decades. The court also agreed with Norway’s ministry for the environment over its means of reducing the damage local farmers, landowners and rural residents claim the resurgent wolf population is causing.

“We are very disappointed, and believe the court ruling is wrong,” Ingrid Lomelde, leader of environmental policy for WWF, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s heartbreaking to see how many wolves have been shot in recent days, and they’re mostly animals that don’t cause any damage.” WWF, other environmental organizations and researchers have also claimed that wolves are shy by nature and do not present a threat to humans. Nobody has been attacked by a wolf in Norway since 1800.

Vidar Helgesen, the government minister from the Conservative Party in charge of environmental issues, blocked a major wolf hunt in 2016. After pressure from Parliament and angry rural constituents, though, Helgesen authorized this winter’s controversial wolf hunt and was pleased that an Oslo court refused to halt it on Friday. PHOTO: Klima- og Miljødepartementet

While WWF evaluates another appeal, Norway’s government minister in charge of the environment, Vidar Helgesen, said he was pleased with the Oslo court ruling. “The court has agreed with us that the survival of the species is not threatened, and that we are hunting outside the wolf zone (specific areas set up where wolves are allowed to roam),” Helgesen told NRK. “We therefore have a lot of room to authorize a licensed hunt and the hunt can continue.”

Helgesen, of the Conservative Party, refused to authorize a major hunt just before the winter hunting season in 2016, because of concerns it would threaten the species in Norway. He was met with a barrage of harsh criticism from the opposition Center Party, which has a rural constituency, and organized farm lobbyists, hunters and farmers themselves who descended on Oslo for hostile protest marches. Helgesen has been under severe pressure ever since and his decision against a hunt was ultimately overridden by Parliament in a so-called compromise last year.

Lately he’s been actively backing the hunt that began last fall before WWF succeeded in obtaining its first demand for an injunction to halt it. “As long as we have wolves within the goals for a Norwegian wolf population, the species is not threatened,” he told NRK on Friday.

Controversial
The wolf hunt remains highly controversial, with some wolf advocates vowing to enter the hunting area in Hedmark to disrupt the hunt, at the risk of being shot themselves. One activist criticized WWF for not “gathering folks out in the field. It doesn’t help the wolf if it’s slaughtered while we just watch!”

Lead hunter Sveen, meanwhile, smiled in a photo published by NRK on Friday as he posed with a dead wolf (external link to NRK, in Norwegian, scroll down to the bottom of NRK’s story). “We’ll take out the wolves, that’s guaranteed. There’s no doubt about it,” he said on national radio Friday afternoon. “We have control over what we’re doing. There are large areas and a lot snow, but we will manage this.”

The court order Friday is the second major legal blow to environmental advocates in Norway this week. On Thursday, the Oslo City Court also ruled against efforts by Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) to halt Arctic oil drilling in Norwegian areas of the Barents Sea.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund