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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Thousands rallied to protect wolves

Norway’s internationally controversial wolf hunt spurred more demonstrations over the weekend, this time to save the country’s wolves from what many fear will be threatened extinction once again. The new Norwegian government minister in charge of climate and environment issues also wants to protect wolves, but claims he must allow the hunt to proceed since it was backed by a majority in Parliament.

Around 3,000 demonstrators pleaded for protection of Norway’s wolves in Oslo on Saturday. Their banners here read “YES to wolves in Norwegian forests,” and claim that wolves “are a part of Norway.” PHOTO:

Hunters had managed by this past weekend to shoot and kill 22 of the 42 wolves authorized in the hunt. By the time it’s over, as much as two-thirds of Norway’s recently resurgent wolf population is expected to have been killed off.

That brought out thousands of people who launched counter-demonstrations to those held last year by farmers, hunters and landowners who feel threatened by wolves and demanded the hunt. The nationwide efforts to protect wolves were organized in Oslo, Tromsø, Stavanger, Fredrikstad, Kristiansand, Trondheim and Bergen, all of them mobilized by the Oslo-based animal rights group NOAH and backed by other environmental organizations.

“The Norwegian state’s management of predators is a huge shame for Norway,” claimed NOAH in its official appeal. “We can’t accept that a threatened species is being slaughtered.” Others have claimed that the ongoing wolf hunt seriously damages Norway’s reputation for being concerned about wildlife and the environment. One professor at the University of Oslo wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen earlier this month that the wolf hunt is “immoral.”

Conflict and threats
One of the speakers at Saturday’s demonstration in front of the Norwegian Parliament, Tore Hauge, lives in Rena in Østerdalen, where the conflict over wolves is strongest. He claimed he and his family have been threatened and their home vandalized by anti-wolf activists who object to his opposition to the wolf hunt and his efforts to save Norway’s wolves.

“Both my wife and I have felt what it’s like to front the wolves,” Hauge told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Folks have come with chainsaws to our property and thrown fireworks at our house.”

He claimed that even in his community, which lies within a wolf zone that’s supposed to balance wolf- and rural interests, there’s a majority in favour of saving wolves but fear of the anti-wolf activists scares them to silence. “We must fight for our predators and their strong presence in Norway,” Hauge said. “We’re way behind other countries in doing that. It’s embarrassing.” He also claimed it was “very frightening” to think that Norway’s small wolf population may be wiped out.

Anti-wolf activists have earlier demonstrated in front of Parliament. On Saturday those in favour of protecting wolves decided it was their turn to make their voices heard. PHOTO:

He’s not the only one to have felt the anger of anti-wolf activists, with the head of the Stormberg clothing company hit with protests and a threatened boycott after he publicly supported efforts to save other predators. Demonstrators in Oslo on Saturday came from Sandefjord to Italy and Great Britain to take part in efforts to save the wolves. “I feel like we’re making a difference,” Thea Bull from Sandefjord told NRK.

Wolves had almost died out in Norway by the 1970s, before they were made a protected species and attempts began to revive the wolf population. That’s been done over the protests of Norway’s powerful farm lobby, especially sheep owners who traditionally have allowed their flocks to graze freely during the summer months. They argue there’s not enough land area for pastures that can be fenced in, and that wolves thus pose a threat to their unprotected animals.

Some wolf packs nonetheless have been restored while others routinely roam over the border to Sweden, where the wolf population is larger. That led to an estimated population of 60-80 wolves by last year, far too many for the farmers and rural residents who feel threatened and succeeded in winning support for this winter’s hunt. It was temporarily halted after wildlife preservation organization WWF filed suit, but the ban was later lifted and WWF’s lawsuit won’t proceed until April, after the winter hunting season.

Situation ‘absurd’
“The situation for wolves in Norway now is absurd,” claims the animal rights group NOAH. “Researchers’ advice, the majority’s opinions and laws and (international) conventions are rolled over.”

The heated conflict over wolves has now landed in the lap of Norway’s new Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party, which joined the country’s expanded conservative government coalition earlier this month. Elvestuen has long been a champion of wolves and his party has sought their protection, prompting skeptical farmers to claim that his replacement of the former minister in charge, Vidar Helgesen, will create even more conflict. Helgesen found himself a target of the anti-wolf activists when he first acted to save the the wolves, but later was forced to reverse his position.

Now Elvestuen finds himself in an awkward position. He still considers himself “pro-wolf” but like Helgesen, must uphold the will of the Parliament that allowed the wolf hunt “as a responsible member of government.”

“We will have large predators in Norway,” Elvestuen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “but we must find a way to do it that will create less conflict than we’ve had until now.”

Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party (left) took over as Norway’s government minister in charge of climate and the environment from Vidar Helgesen (right) last week. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Asked what it’s like to be both an advocate for wolves and the environment, and a member of a government that’s been criticized for its environmental policies (moving forward with oil exploration in the Arctic, the wolf hunt and dumping mine tailings in a western fjord just in recent weeks), Elvestuen said that all environment ministers face conflicting demands.

“But we have a good foundation in the government platform (called the “Jeløya Declaration”) where it states that we shall have the large predators in Norway,” Elvestuen said. “The law requiring diversity in nature and the Bern Convention are also firm.”

While environmental organizations cheered Elvestuen’s appointment, farmers like Linda Suleng from Lena in Toten was skeptical. She said that around 300 sheep were killed by wolves in her area last summer and she hasn’t liked hearing Elvestuen (before he became government minister) say that wolves “must not be shot but protected.” He has also wanted to expand Norway’s wolf zones.

“It won’t surprise me if the wolf conflicts gets even worse,” Suleng tld NRK. Elvestuen is already facing demands from farmers in nearby Hedmark to shoot even more wolves in their area. Their full quota of 16 out of the 42 wolves in the hunt quota wasn’t enough, they claim, because survivors of some packs remain.

Elvestuen “has made it clear he’s a strong protector of the wolf,” Knut Arne Gjems, leader of the Hedmark Hunting and Fishing Association, told NRK right after Elvestuen was appointed last week. “Then we have to hang on even harder to make sure the Parliament’s (wolf hunt allowance) is followed.” Berglund



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