Norwegian wildlife authorities have confirmed the discovery of a litter of baby wolves in Oslo’s eastern forest known as Østmarka. That brings the number of new wolf litters to three in Norway and a fourth along the border to Sweden, prompting other state officials to authorize a new wolf hunt this winter that’s sure to be debated.
Rovdata, the national surveillance program for tracking predators that cooperates with conservation agency Statens Naturoppsyn (SNO), announced that the litter of wolf pups was born this winter. The baby wolves were recently found by hikers who tipped SNO, which in turn could quickly confirm through their own field studies that the pups are “pure Norwegian,” according to Rovdata genetics expert Øystein Flagstad.
“The field studies (which included collection of fur samples) have documented that five wolf pups were born in the Østmarka region this year,” Flagstad said. “DNA analysis shows it is highly probable that a male wolf born in Østmarka last year is the father of the litter.”
What concerns Flagstad and his fellow researchers is the indication of inbreeding found in the DNA analysis. The mother of the male wolf father was never observed with any partner either before, during or after the mating season, he noted, “so we thought that there perhaps would be no pups born in Østmarka this year.” Instead it appears that the mother mated with her own son. She in turn is the product of a father and daughter mating, “so now we can determine that there’s an extremely high degree of inbreeding in this region,” Flagstad said.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that neither SNO nor Rovdata officials will reveal exactly where in Østmarka the wolf pups were found. The area borders on many residential areas of southern, eastern and northeastern Oslo, is full of marked hiking, skiing and bicycle trails and serves as a popular recreation area. There are some areas of Østmarka, however, that are designated as nature preserves and fairly wild, without dirt roads or trails.
While many Oslo residents have welcomed the re-establishment of wolf packs in Østmarka and other areas of the forests and hills around the capital, most farmers and ranchers view wolves as a threat, not least to their free-grazing livestock. There have been many examples of illegal hunting of the wolves, which are supposed to be a protected species in Norway.
New hunt authorized
On Tuesday, however, another state wildlife authority charged with controlling the wolf population in Norway (Rovviltnemndene) authorized a hunt of as many as 30 wolves in Southern Norway this coming winter. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that members of the authority, in a meeting at Gardermoen, agreed that 12 wolves can be shot outside the “wolf zone” set aside for wolves plus three entire wolf packs inside the zone.
All wolves in the packs at Slettås in Hedmark, Hobøl in Østfold and Mangen in both Akershus and Hedmark can be “taken out.” According to SNO’s numbers of wolves within the various packs, the hunt can thus target around 30 wolves, equivalent to roughly a third of Norway’s entire wolf population.
NRK reported that the authority’s secretariat had recommended only hunting the 12 wolves outside the zones and none within the zones. Members of the authority thus contradicted their own advisers in recommending the hunt within the zones.
Protests already coming in
That’s sure to set off more howls of protest by environmentalists and conservationists trying to protect Norway’s wolf population. The actual number to be allowed will likely have to be settled by Norway’s government minister in charge of the environment, Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party.
Protests were already coming in. “It’s indefensible to kill so many wolves,” said Øyvind Solum, a regional leader of the authority and politician with the Greens Party. Even those voting in favour of the hunt conceded that complaints were likely.
“I’m absolutely certain that the hunt will be appealed from both sides,” said Arnfinn Nergård, a politician for the anti-wolf and farmer-friendly Center Party and leader of the authority in the agricultural county of Hedmark. “The final decision will be taken in the environmental ministry.”