Call issued to end a ‘barbaric’ hunt

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Wolverine pups that haven’t even seen the light of day are routinely pulled out of their mothers’ winter dens and shot by Norwegian wildlife officials. The controversial practice is part of state-authorized efforts to reduce the wolverine population in Norway, because it threatens free-grazing sheep and reindeer.

This male wolverine pup was among those shot during last year’s raids on wolverines’ winter dens, to shoot pups and their mothers. PHOTO: Statens Naturoppsyn (SNO)

“I’ll never get used to taking the lives of small wolverine pups,” Lars Gangås of the state agency Statens Naturoppsyn (SNO), claimed in the NRK TV series Villmarkens voktere (Guards of the wilderness). “It’s simply unpleasant.” SNO is the state agency that’s part of Norway’s environmental directorate, in charge of preserving “national environmental values,” preventing environmental crime,and a variety of other functions including carrying out wildlife management policies.

Now the environmental organization Naturvernforbundet is issuing a formal call to halt the practice, called hiuttak, which literally translates to withdrawals (uttak) from an animal’s winter dens or lairs (hi). “This is a barbaric method that’s used to reduce the population of a seriously threatened species in Norwegian nature,” Arnodd Håpnes of Naturvernforbundet told NRK this week.

‘Stop the slaughter’
The organization was calling this week to “stop the slaughter of wolverines.” On the organization’s own website, Håpnes accuses the state of having “a morbid, built-in dynamic” in its management of wolverines (called jerv in Norwegian) that’s “well-suited to cementing the impression of Norway as Europe’s super-worst at managing predators.” Norwegian authorities and the farmers prodding them on have also been harshly criticized for the country’s wolf hunts, also aimed at greatly reducing the wolf population even though it nearly became extinct less than 50 years ago.

Norway continues to have a large portion of Europe’s wolverine population, but not so large, Håpnes claims, that it justifies pulling pups out of their dens and shooting them along with their mothers. Norway has been the target of international criticism over its seal hunts, which involved clubbing baby seals for their skins but also to prevent them from eating too much fish later in life. Now the country’s practice of killing wolverine pups is drawing reaction as well.

Håpnes, who specializes in and leads wildlife management efforts at Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth, claims the wolverine population has been “shot down” dramatically in recent years: Authorities registered 40 wolverine females that gave birth to pups, just above the low “population goal” of 39. The entire population is calculated as consisting of 324 wolverines, with 113 of them targeted for being shot by the middle of this month.

This wolverine escaped being killed shortly after birth, but remained subject to an annual hunt. In the fall of 2016, Norway’s environmental directorate (Miljødirektoratet) decided to “take out” seven litters of jerv “because of the damage and potential damage they could cause to grazing sheep and tame reindeer,” according to the directorate. The actual number of litters destroyed rose to 10. PHOTO: Statens naturoppsyn (SNO)/Stein Ø Nilsen

“Killing off a third of the population is a lot, and in reality it’s much more,” he said, because 10 of the 40 females with their litters were tracked down in their dens and shot last spring, in addition to the 113 in the authorized hunt in the fall. That, Håpnes claims, can cut the wolverine population by half.

The controversial practice of pulling the litters of pups from their dens and killing them has not been widely known, but NRK reported that it’s occurred 143 times since 2001. It’s been justified by the discoveries of the bloody cadavers of sheep and reindeer that were documented to have been attacked by wolverines. Atle Hamar, state secretary for the Liberal Party in the state Climate and Environmental Ministry, points to protection of Norwegian farmers’ tradition of releasing livestock for open grazing in the summer (beitenæringen) when he explains why the practice continues.

“We have to take care of both the open grazing business and the wolverines as a predator,” Hamar told NRK. The practice has been under evaluation, he said, “and we’ll look at this again.”

Free grazing itself threatens sheep
Others contend that wolves and wolverines pose the least threat to sheep. One man pointed, in a letter to the editor of Aftenposten on Thursday, that the greatest threat to sheep released for open grazing is that practice itself, “because no one is taking care of the animals.” The letter writer, Steinar Austheim, pointed to an estimated 100,000 sheep that “have died an unnecessary death” during the past 10 years because of injury, illness, infection, and drowning. A large number of sheep are also never rounded up at the end of the summer grazing season and then freeze to death, “because no one bothered to find them,” Austheim said. Farmers raising sheep can also claim financial compensation from the state if they’re lost or killed. The estimated 100,000 sheep that died from neglect compares to 1,849 believed to have been killed by wolves.

In addition come those killed by wolverines who escaped this past fall and winter hunt that ended on February 15. Asked whether the controversial practice of hiuttak will be used this spring as well, Hamar told NRK it “surely” would, “in order to manage the population in the best possible manner.” Berglund