Norway’s Labour Party is drawing fire over a controversial new proposal to make it easier to shoot more wolves in Norway. As the wolf population grows, to the relief of conservationists, Labour is scaring former environmental allies with what it claims is merely an attempt to reduce high conflict levels.
There are now somewhere between 86 and 96 wolves in Norway. Around 50 appear to be permanent residents, while between 34 and 41 roam back and forth over the border to Sweden.
The overall population has thus recovered from near extinction in the 1970s, but those opposed to predators in Norway claim it’s now too high. The anti-wolf Center Party has howled for years over wolves that threaten the party’s farming constituency and rural residents who feel threatened themselves.
Now Labour is siding with Center, its former government partner, or perhaps trying to steal Center Party voters. It supports, at any rate, Center’s proposal to shoot two wolf packs now found in zones set up to protect them.
What’s angering other parties in Parliament the most, however, is how Labour also is now keen to change Norwegian law by effectively using the minimum wolf population levels set to ensure the species’ survival as a maximum as well. If experts were to put the minimum at 60, for example, Labour now thinks all wolves over that level could and should be shot, even if they haven’t attacked any free-grazing sheep or posed other threats.
“We have more breeding packs than the current (wolf population) goals allow,” Espen Barth Eide, Labour’s former defense- and foreign minister who now serves as the party’s spokesman on energy and environmental policy, told news bureau NTB. He claims Norway thus has “a democratic problem,” since “many of those most threatened by wolves don’t think the authorities are taking them seriously. We need to fix that.”
The Greens- and Liberal parties are all but shocked by Eide’s remarks and Labour’s new position. They also accuse Labour of putting Norway in violation of international agreements to save wolves in Europe that Labour itself signed back in 1979 when it held government power.
“The Labour Party is about to shame us within Europe,” wrote Une Bastholm, a Member of Parliament for the Greens, in an email to NTB. Both she and Environment Minister Sveinung Rotevatn of the Liberal Party maintain that the Bern Convention, for example, would not allow what Labour is proposing. Guri Melby, an MP for the Liberals, also blasted the “new signals” from Labour that she claims would allow wolves within protective zones to be shot “just because they think we already have enough wolves.”
Runar Sjåstad, one of Eide’s Labour colleagues in Parliament, claimed Melby and Bastholm are “overreacting.” He insists Labour remains concerned with protecting wildlife in Norway, including wolves. Nor do either he or Eide think Labour’s position would violate international agreements to save the wolves. They just think that when Norway has met the minimum level set to assure the wolves’ survival, “we should be able to take out more.”
It’s unclear whether Labour and the Center Party will form a majority on the issue, however, since the conservative Progress Party hasn’t committed to voting with them, at least not yet. The Conservatives-led government parties including the Liberals would vote against the Labour-Center proposal along with the Greens and probably the Reds and Socialist Left. Progress, which left the government coalition in January, would probably have the swing vote.
The government, meanwhile, is appealing a recent court ruling that a government decision to kill wolves in 2017 was invalid. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide on that culling, and if it also claims it was illegal, Progress has indicated it would go along with changing the law, likely along the terms proposed by Labour and Center.